The following article appeared in the Chicago Daily Herald on Oct. 15, 2009, and was written by Joshua Welge.
So much has changed for Ariana Mankus in one year.
She no longer goes to school in the protective cocoon of Benet Academy, surrounded by boys and girls she grew up with. Now she is some 800 miles away, living with three other girls in barracks at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
A different life, for sure.
But there is always the volleyball.
Twelve months removed from taking Benet within a game of a Class 4A state championship, the 2008 Daily Herald All-Area captain now is a freshman on Army's volleyball team.
She hasn't skipped a beat.
This week Mankus was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week for the fourth time. Mankus' 13 kills and 13 digs led the Black Knights to a road sweep of Holy Cross, pushing their win streak to nine.
Playing full rotation, Mankus has topped double figures in kills 12 times for the 17-3 Black Knights. Perhaps the highlight was a 16-kill effort in a win at then 19th-ranked Pepperdine Sept. 12. She had a career-best 23 kills in a win over Iowa the next week.
"It's definitely going better than I expected it would," Mankus said. "I have a great group of people backing me up. We function real well as a group."
Mankus arrived on campus June 26 for basic training.
She called the month-long experience "not something that I will ever forget."
Long runs and taxing physical activity. Marches carrying full gear and marches up ski slopes. Basic training broke for Mankus on Aug. 4 and led right into volleyball three-a-days Aug. 7.
She never for a moment considered giving up.
"It was hard," she said, "but I kept telling myself, 'You're going to get through this,' and I didn't go through it alone."
The days running hills for club volleyball were valuable preparation.
"I've been exposed to intense physical actitivy. It was nothing new to me," she said. "I knew how to push myself."
To a certain extent Mankus' schedule has fallen into line with a college student at any other school.
She gets up at 6:15, "6:20 if I'm lazy." There is formation before breakfast in the barracks, but that is followed by a typical class schedule - math, history, english composition and chemistry. Afternoon practice is followed by dinner and homework.
Mankus misses many of the marches in parade fields because of practice.
"A lot of days we have uniform inspections and some days room inspections," Mankus said, "but when it comes down to it it's still college."
Mankus hasn't played any of her former Benet teammates on the court, but she keeps up on Facebook. Thanksgiving will be her first time home because of a busy volleyball schedule.
My lasting memory of Mankus at Benet came minutes after the 4A championship, a crushing loss to St. Charles East. Mankus, disappointed but still unbowed, was the only Benet player not in tears.
I knew then that she'd do just fine in the Army.
"As far as the challenge goes," she said, "I was expecting a big challenge. That's exactly what I got. I'm just taking it one day at a time. The volleyball has absolutely helped me here."
Around campus: Ariana Mankus is one of many DuPage-area volleyball players excelling on the court this fall. Colleen Ward, the 2007 All-Area captain Naperville North leads No. 9 Florida with 186 kills. Laura DeBruler (Downers Grove North), a junior outside at Illinois, leads the No. 10 Illini with 255 kills and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 14. Paige Vargas (Benet) leads Dayton in digs with 245. Natalie Patzin, also from Benet, is third on the team in kills (188) and fourth in digs (139) at Clemson. And Emily McGee (Naperville Central) is sixth in kills with 81 for North Carolina.