Manley reflects on Rio Olympics, sets sights on 2020

By on August 31, 2016
Warwick High School graduate Alyssa Manley (right), shown here playing in the Rio Send-Off Series held at Spooky Nook, enjoyed her first Olympics as a member of the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team. (Photo by Suzette Wenger)

Warwick High School graduate Alyssa Manley (right), shown here playing in the Rio Send-Off Series held at Spooky Nook, enjoyed her first Olympics as a member of the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team. (Photo by Suzette Wenger)

 

A selfie with all-time Olympic great Michael Phelps followed by a 4-0 jump in Pool B of the 2016 Rio Games.

It was a memorable start for Lititz’s Alyssa Manley and the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team.

Unfortunately, it ended a little bit shy of their dream to bring home a medal for the first time since the 1984 games in Los Angeles, suffering a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Germany in the quarter-finals.

“Obviously, we didn’t get the outcome we were hoping for,” Manley said, “but overall, you can’t go to a better tournament than the Olympics, so it was definitely a very cool experience.”

In the end, Manley and her teammates still claimed the United States’ most wins in the sport to-date at the Olympics. Many are considering it a step in the right direction for the program.

“I definitely think, especially at this point, it’s almost hard to see how well we did because we expected so much more of ourselves,” said Manley, speaking from Syracuse University where she is finishing her final semester of classes. “But it definitely is a very good step forward for our program, and by winning those games we were able to get more recognition from people in the U.S. who had never really watched field hockey, and we got a little more coverage than we normally do.”

One, in particular, who wasn’t lacking for coverage was Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 28 medals. On the night of the opening ceremony Aug. 5, the U.S. field hockey team had a happenstance encounter with the star swimmer.

Opting not to walk in the ceremony so they could rest prior to their game against No. 2 ranked Argentina early the next day, the U.S. women bumped into Phelps as they were heading back into their apartment building at the Olympic Village.

“We weren’t expecting him to walk outside. Everyone had walked away and we turned and there he was walking out,” Manley said, “and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Instead of taking a bunch of individual shots, the team asked for a team selfie with Phelps.

“I think one of our coaches might have said, ‘Hey Michael, can you get a picture with the USA Field Hockey Team?’ So we all just kinda crowded around him really quickly. He kinda didn’t really have much of an option,” Manley laughed.

The team’s decision not to go to the opening ceremony seemed like a good one when they upset Argentina 2-1 in their opener. Next, No. 5-ranked Team USA knocked off third-seeded Australia 2-1, and then Katie Bam combined for five goals in wins over Japan (6-1) and India (3-0).

Even if the experts were surprised at their start, Manley wasn’t.

“I think that we are a very good team, and I know that we’re always going to bring it,” she said, “so if someone had told me that (we’d be 4-0), I would have been like, ‘Yeah, exactly.’”

To be sure, their 4-for-4 showing was becoming a story line of the Olympics. A USA Field Hockey tweet on the heels of their shutout of India got 885 likes, and a two-time Masters golf tournament champion was even catching the fever.

“There were people reaching out to us, so we could definitely feel the support and that kinda helped motivate us a little more,” Manley said. “Bubba Watson talked to us in the dining hall saying he was coming to one of our games, and he did.”

Meanwhile, the team itself tried to keep as close to the same routine as they did while training at Nook Sports in Manheim or competing in any other tournament.

Time with family and friends was limited to just an hour after games. Back at the Olympic Village, players napped, watched Netflix, or checked out other events on television.

“When we were in the village, or not at the field, we were pretty much just relaxing,” Manley said. “It was almost like everyday life. We were definitely watching a lot of other events. So when gymnastics was on, we watched that, and swimming, track and field, some fencing, and volleyball. Probably almost all of them we watched at some point.”

A lot of the concerns making headlines leading up to the Olympic Games, such as Zika and security, were a non-issue.

“I honestly did not come across any of that while I was down there,” Manley said.

The focus instead was on the events, and a lot of television sets were tuned in to the Americans’ final Pool B game against Great Britain in a battle of undefeated first-place teams. Midway through the third quarter, Michelle Vitesse’s goal gave Team USA a 1-0 lead, which they held until late into the final stanza.

But the eventual gold medal champ, GBR, scored twice in the final seven minutes to pull out a 2-1 win and the top seed in Pool B for the playoffs.

“I think we just kinda fell apart a little bit, and they were really able to capitalize on our mistakes and were able to get two goals and kinda rise above,” Manley recalled.

Still, the U.S. women were confident heading into their quarter-final match against Germany.

“Obviously, we were a little disappointed that we had lost that game, but we were still in a good position going into the next round,” Manley said.

Unfortunately, the start of their game against Germany echoed the way the GBR game had ended. Germany, who went on to claim the bronze, took a 2-0 first-quarter lead. Despite getting their share of scoring chances, the Americans couldn’t connect until Katelyn Falgowski found the back of the net with 3:54 remaining in the fourth.

But Team USA’s rally fell short.

“They were just able to capitalize on small things and were able to get ahead early,” Manley said. “We, unfortunately, didn’t have enough time to make a full comeback at the end.”

That ended Team USA’s stay in the tournament, but not their experience at the games. Prior to heading back to American soil, Manley was able to enjoy a much-deserved Brazilian steak house meal.

“They had some good meat there — I couldn’t even pick what my favorite was,” she said. “They had a lot of different steaks and chicken and different kind of sausages, so that was kinda cool.”

Once Team USA’s flight touched down at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., Manley didn’t have much time to reflect before packing her bags again for Syracuse, where she is working toward a degree in child and family studies.

She will rejoin the U.S. team in January, after the Christmas break.

“I’m definitely hoping that I can continue playing,” Manley said, “and hopefully have a run for the next Olympics (in Tokyo).”

Bruce Morgan is the Record Express sports editor. He welcomes reader comments at bmorgan.eph@lnpnews.com.

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