Spiking Machine

Volleyball Powerhouse Johnny Manzo Talks the About the Game and Fly-Fishing

Though San Marcos Royal Johnny Manzo (right) and S.B. Don Clifford Anderson both fell victim to injuries their last year of high school volleyball, they are looking forward to a fresh start next fall at Harvard and UCLA, respectively.
Paul Wellman

Johnny Manzo’s career as a San Marcos High student was heavy on sleep deprivation because of his many activities. He played basketball and volleyball; served as ASB president; spearheaded several student organizations (including the Kids Helping Kids nonprofit that raised $165,000 for the Santa Barbara Unity Shoppe)—all while achieving a 4.78 GPA that qualified him for numerous academic honors and acceptance to Harvard.

Now, with his senior year winding down, Manzo finally has the time to get a good night’s sleep. “But I can’t sleep,” he said ruefully. “My knee hurts at night.” It is also painful for him to sit at courtside during a volleyball match. “It kills me to come and watch. I want to be out there. I see big hits go down, and I want to be doing that.”

Manzo’s last prep season ended abruptly in early March when he landed awkwardly after a big hit and tore the ACL in his right knee. After surgery, the 6’3” hitter faces months of rehab. He hopes to be ready to play at Harvard next January.

In the meantime, Manzo likes to talk about fly-fishing. Two of his sweetest memories are winning the Channel League basketball championship in his junior year—a joy he shared with his teammates—and pulling a 22-inch rainbow trout out of the Upper Owens River on a rainy fall day, a poignant moment that was between him and the fish. “I left the camera in the car with my parents,” he said. “They stayed out of the rain. I was all alone with the fish. It was a great fish, a beautiful fish. I released him. He gave something to me. I gave him something in return.”

A youth academy sponsored by the Santa Barbara Flyfishers hooked Manzo on the sport. He finds it to be totally engaging. “It is so involved, you have to be focused. You can’t be thinking about anything else,” he said.

Manzo kept his fondness for fly-fishing under wraps when he started high school. “It’s not the coolest thing to be doing,” he said. “It wasn’t until I became a junior that I decided there’s no reason I should try to hide it. This is something worthy of my time.”

Volleyball has much the same appeal to him. “You can play it outside on the beach,” he said. And it’s a cerebral sport. “Athleticism takes you only so far in volleyball,” Manzo said. “Guys can destroy other teams, not because they’re the best athletes, but because they know how to hit the ball and where to put it.” Case in point: Todd Rogers, the world- and Olympic-champion beach player (and San Marcos grad) who has been dubbed “The Professor.” And three-time gold medalist Karch Kiraly (a Santa Barbara High grad) was known as “The Computer.”

It was during the Karch Kiraly Tournament of Champions last weekend that Manzo discussed his frustrations and aspirations. Without him, the San Marcos team struggled. The Royals had to open up against Santa Margarita, the eventual champion. They did sweep Buena in their last match to place 15th. Also finishing with wins were Dos Pueblos (11th place) and the host Santa Barbara Dons (7th).

Playing a key role for the Dons was 6’8” senior Clifford Anderson, whose season is a reverse image of Manzo’s. He missed six weeks because of a herniated disc in his back. He saw his first action in a five-game battle against Dos Pueblos last week. “My back feels fine now,” Anderson said. “The rest of my body is catching up. My stamina is not the best.”

Coach Chad Arneson, whose Dons are ranked No. 9 in CIF Division 1, is glad to have the big man back on the floor. “He brings confidence,” Arneson said. “There’s an intimidation factor when he’s at the net.”

Anderson, bound for UCLA next year, also has a love of the outdoors. He has achieved a rare distinction among high school athletes, one that requires 21 merit badges. “I finished my Eagle Scout project,” Anderson said. It involved fixing up a children’s playground at El Montecito Presbyterian Church.

Manzo and Anderson are two young men with promising futures in their hands, whether or not volleyball is there.

OLE GANG AND ALL GAUCHO: Santa Barbara High’s Ye Ole Gang will hold its 38th annual barbecue fundraiser at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Apr. 23) at Tucker’s Grove. Gary Hart, an end on the 1960 CIF championship football team and later state senator, will be honored along with Cindy Lea Arbelbide, Danny Paulin, and Jim Cordero. For more info, call 962-0605. … UCSB’s fifth annual All-Gaucho Reunion on April 29-May 1 will feature the return of Jim Rome (Class of ’86), the provocative sports broadcaster. “The Jungle” will be in session Saturday night (Apr. 30) at Campbell Hall. For details, call 893-3535.


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