By Desirée Keegan
Securing seven years of bad luck is as simple as breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder, but earning seven years of good luck is much more complicated.
After taking over a losing program, Kings Park varsity volleyball coaches Lizz and Ed Manly have steered the Kingsmen to seven straight Suffolk County and Long Island championship titles.
“They’re straightforward — if you’re not doing something correctly, or doing something you shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to let you know,” said senior Erika Benson. “But I think everybody needs someone like that in their life. They don’t sugar coat things for you.”
The middle hitter said her married mentors not only care about their Kingsmen as players, but as people. This is chiefly due to Ed Manly’s job as a guidance counselor within the high school.
“Mr. Manly is always asking us if everything is OK, and if he can help us in any way to let him know,” Benson said. “As a guidance counselor, he’s helped us seniors a lot with anything we went to him with regarding college.”
Senior Kara Haase said the girls have improved on and off the court because of the values of friendship and family fostered within the program by the Manlys. She said she has seen it firsthand for the last six years.
“Our success has to do a lot with our coaches — they pushed us every day,” she said. “They not only taught us to strive to be better as players and teammates, but as individuals. Their coaching style can be strict, but all they want is for us to have fun while competing at a high level. It has truly been an honor playing for them.”
Lexi Petraitis said she first met Lizz Manly when she was in fourth grade during a volleyball clinic, where the coach pulled her aside to teach her how to use her height to hit in the middle of the front row. She played for Manly when she was on the middle school team. The coach was pregnant at the time, and remained at the helm up until the day she gave birth.
“I think that Lizz and Ed were two of the most dedicated coaches I’ve ever seen in any sport,” the senior said, noting how Lizz Manly also attended the state championship finals to watch her husband and her girls compete when she was nine months pregnant with the second of her two children. “If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.”
This past fall Kings Park finished with its second straight undefeated League V season, going 14-0, and snatched its seventh straight county and LIC crowns. The seven seniors in a rotation of eight secured a fourth consecutive appearance in the state tournament, finishing third after the group came in second in 2016.
“On the court, although they push us to our physical and sometimes emotional limits, the team and they know that it’s a prime example of ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger,’ and they most definitely made us stronger,” Petraitis said. “If they didn’t push us as hard as they did I doubt the legacy they created would’ve existed. They are the type of coaches that do everything in their power to make us successful.”
Current Iona College standout Amanda Gannon, a 2015 Kings Park graduate, was the first volleyball player to win four straight Long Island titles in school history. She said she first met Lizz Manly when she was in sixth grade. Manly was her physical education teacher, and persuaded her to join the volleyball team. Gannon went on to become the all-time kills leader in Kings Park school history.
“She was always so caring and kindhearted,” Gannon said. “I love going to her office even just to talk to her. I was super excited when I joined the team to be led by such an understanding, loving person.”
Gannon was called up to the varsity team as a freshman, playing under Manly until she graduated, which was when her coach’s husband grabbed the reins so his wife could focus on raising their family.
“Luckily, my husband took over for me so I can still feel a little involved, and he did a great job,” Manly said. “With confidence and determination, they continued the Kings Park volleyball tradition.”
Gannon said it’s because the Kingsmen always wanted to make them proud.
“We were all so motivated to play for them,” she said. “We wanted to prove to them how good we can be. It started by having good culture, being who you are, respecting yourself and respecting the program. All four of my years we really embraced that.”
Petraitis shared a similar sentiment about her coaches’ accessibility and warmth.
“I’ve never had a coach other than Lizz and Ed that I have felt so comfortable asking them anything,” she said. “If I ever had a question about a free ball play or footwork, etc., I’ve never been scared to ask. There aren’t words to describe how much I appreciate them and how much they have influenced my life. They have been with me throughout and supported every single part of my volleyball career.”
Ed Manly wrote in a letter to family, friends and fans that he and his wife will be retiring, stating that stepping down was the hardest thing he has done, but said it’s been difficult to put in the time needed with a growing family.
“Today was by far the hardest day we have had as coaches,” he said. “We have stated time and time again to our athletes that family comes first, and at the present time giving our program the time it deserves no longer was possible. We are so incredibly thankful to every player we coached, every coach we have become friends with and competed against, and all of our volleyball friends we have met along the way. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing families in such an amazingly supportive community.”
Their departure will undoubtedly leave a hole at one of the most successful athletic
programs in any sport in Suffolk County.
“It’s sad to see them leaving,” Gannon said. “They took a failing program and turned it around to be one of the most successful on Long Island. They have changed so many people’s lives and have established a community that will never be torn down. They will be greatly missed, but I’m truly grateful for all that they’d done for me, my teammates and Kings Park. I know that what they have
created will last forever.”