Kaylee Manns’ professional volleyball career has taken her places.
From Puerto Rico to Switzerland, from the Philippines to Norway or from Turkey to Brazil, the 32-year-old setter, who had an outstanding collegiate career for Iowa State between 2006 and 2010, has seen a lot of the sport around the globe.
But she’s never been as excited as she is right now.
One of the players confirmed to take part in the inaugural season of the upcoming Athletes Unlimited volleyball league, the Topeka, Kansas, native is looking forward to being able to compete professionally in her home country after spending her entire career overseas.
Most importantly, Manns is convinced she’s taking part in an initiative that will strongly benefit the sport in her country, offering young players who come out of college, just like she did a decade ago, an opportunity to continue their careers in American soil.
“I don’t think anyone can fully understand yet how valuable this will be for America’s youth players,” said Manns, a setter who was a two-time AVCA second-team All-American for Iowa State. “Not only they are now able to have the goal of playing locally after their collegiate experience, but the awareness this will bring to female athletes is unmeasurable.
“There will be greater exposure to high-level volleyball in the country outside of the Olympic years and the sport will certainly grow because of this league. The volleyball community has been expressing the need for an American league for some time now, so I’m excited that some of the leaders took charge and made this happen.”
Manns’ confidence is based on two factors, which she considers essential to the success of any sports league around the world: talented athletes who are able to perform at a high level, and efficient work behind the scenes to make sure everything goes as planned.
With the likes of USA national-team members Jordan Larson, Lauren Gibbemeyer and Karsta Lowe; Brazilian two-time Olympic champion Sheilla Castro; and international stars including the Dominican Republic’s Bethania De La Cruz and Puerto Rico’s Aurea Cruz all set to play in February 2021, it’s easy to understand why she believes the first of those factors is as well-covered as it could be.
The work made by the organizers in the months prior to the start of the league, even with a global pandemic hitting the entire world, was also highlighted by the setter, who’s confident the detailed planning will guarantee the success of its inaugural edition.
“The level of competition will bring success to the league,” Manns said. “As long as the players are satisfied with the level of competition and the organization, I see no way it could fail. Each of us has played overseas and carries certain expectations, but from the Zoom meetings we’ve had, I can tell that Athletes Unlimited has been overly organized and that they will listen to player’s needs and make sure the league is a success.
“They also plan on being advocates for non-profits and local disadvantaged youth, which I cannot say enough good things about.”
Besides her international experiences, Manns has also played in the now-extinct American Premier Volleyball League (PVL), a grassroots professional league that used to exist in the U.S. She won the league in 2013 with the Iowa Ice and that triumph took the team to what is up to these days one of the top experiences of her career, appearing at that year’s FIVB Women’s Club World Championship, where her teammates and her faced some heavyweights of international volleyball such as Brazil’s Unilever Volei (now SESC Flamengo) and Turkey’s VakifBank Istanbul.
“I haven’t played in any leagues or tournaments comparable to Athletes Unlimited,” said Manns, who played in the European Champions League with Albania’s Partizani Tirane. “The Club World Championship’s competition level was dynamite and I expect the same level here. As an athlete that has been playing professionally for several years, I’ve had the greatest success physically and mentally when playing at the highest level possible. Being a competitor, I excel during pressure and intense situations, so I am definitely pumped that each game will be a fight.”
Manns, however, has been already doing her part to support the development of volleyball in the country for quite some time now. Since 2015, she’s been the owner of Midwest Volleyball Performance (MVP), an organization of professional coaches that hosts team clinics around the country.
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Since then, her group of coaches has helped several aspiring athletes in several different states advancing their volleyball skills and finding their ways to collegiate volleyball programs in the country.
“I am very passionate about smaller town athletes and helping them get visibility and training,” she said. “I started in 2015 when a lot of coaches were asking a group of us to travel to their high schools and run summer clinics and it just grew naturally from there. We don’t want geographic or financial restrictions to prohibit an athlete’s dream of playing in college.
“We have also started partnering up with tournaments to organize events. Several of our participants have received college scholarships and that’s what it’s about, helping and giving back to the sport that has given me so much.”