Warwick Role Model: Olympic Star Inspires Young Athletes

Images Courtesy of Laura Knowles, Lititz Record Express, & Mark Palczewski

Jan. 03, 2018, 10:30 a.m. (ET)

Content Courtesy of Laura Knowles, Lititz Record Express

Abigail Hollowell was first in line to meet a real honest-to-goodness Olympic athlete Friday night at the Warwick High School basketball game.

That Olympic star, and former Warwick stand-out, was Alyssa Manley, who played on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Field Hockey Team at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

She also happens to be Lititz’s very first Olympian.

Hollowell, at just 9 years old, had some pretty important questions for her hero. She, like Manley, started playing field hockey in Coach Bob Derr’s youth program. Hollowell was 7 and Manley was 6.

“I want to ask her what help she can give me on drills,” said Hollowell, just before she met her role model. “I want to get better and better.”

As it turned out, that’s exactly the advice that 23-year-old Manley gave her young fan.

“I told her to never give up, to keep working on her stick skills. You never know where it can take you,” she said.

Perseverance, and a lot of natural talent, is what took Manley to Rio.

“Getting selected was so surreal,” she recalled. “Knowing I was going to be able to compete with my teammates in the Olympics was one of the best things that I had ever earned.”

After the initial excitement, and relief, Manley took a deep breath and did what she was trained to do. She grounded herself and approached the Olympic Games like any other tournament.

Of course there were a lot of differences compared to a normal tour for the U.S.Women's National Team, like flying to Brazil and staying in the Olympic Village with athletes from all over the world. Marching in the opening Olympic Ceremonies as the stars and stripes led the way for her and her American teammates was the thrill of a lifetime for the defensive center who graduated from Warwick just four years earlier. Her teammates were all players that she had idolized and watched during the lead-up to the London Olympic Games in 2012.

“I joined the team the summer before Rio, and they were very welcoming,” she said. “They very quickly showed me what it takes to be on the team. Being a part of the U.S. national team is like having a second family.”

That family fought to the end in Brazil, even though they didn’t get the medal they had hoped for.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, Manley always dreamed of playing in the Olympic Games, even as a young girl playing for Coach Derr.

The daughter of Don and Nancy Manley, she was born and raised in Lititz, Pa. with her two brothers Chris and Nick. She loved sports, and played soccer and lacrosse as well as field hockey. It was field hockey that won her heart, from the time she joined Derr’s camp as a first-grader. By the time she was in high school, the dream seemed possible.

“It was definitely something I had thought of, and hoped one day my hard work would pay off enough for me to be able to go and compete. It was a long-term goal that my short-term goals helped me reach,” she said.

She credits Derr with giving her the tools and encouragement.

“Coach Derr was very influential. He taught me how to play field hockey from an early age and was the first coach to see my potential,” she said. “From his coaching, he showed me how great the game of field hockey is. I always enjoyed playing for him, and it made me want to work hard. He has so much passion for the game and really cares about the players he develops, and that shows.”

In high school, Manley was a member of the 2011 Lancaster-Lebanon League championship team and PIAA State runner-up. She was a First-Team All-American and First-Team All-State selection, in addition to being named the Lancaster Sportswriters and Coaches’ Field Hockey Player of the Year.

After graduating from Warwick in 2012, she played for Syracuse University, where she was an All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year and member of an NCAA Division I Championship Team.

In addition to competing in the Rio 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Manley won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.

At Syracuse, she earned a degree in child and family studies. For now, however, her career centers on field hockey while she is still young enough to compete on the team, which is based in Lancaster County. She plays and trains almost every day.

After she decides to retire from the game, she hopes to have a career that allows her to work with children.

She seemed to be a natural with all the children who lined up to meet her and get her autograph on Friday.

“I tell them to just work hard. That is the best thing you can do. I have failed many times during my field hockey career, but I never stopped working hard and learning from my mistakes,” she said. “It was great to be back at my old high school and to represent this great small town.”