By Tom Rohrer
As repeat starters, Timberline High School volleyball’s Hunter Manke and Riley Podowicz have been a part of the team’s best run in school history.
Since joining the team in 2010, the senior duo have been part of three trips to the 3A state tournament and three Narrows League championship teams.
Now, after going two-and-out in last year’s state tournament, with losses to Southridge and Mt. Si at Saint Martin’s University, the two longtime friends and teammates are ready to lead the Blazers one last time.
“What happened happened last year and we cannot change that,” said Manke, whose mom Krista is the head coach at Timberline. “But we are definitely going to improve off last year and be ready for any match and any opponent.”
“It’s really crazy, just thinking how fast it’s gone,” said Podowicz, who joined Manke on the All-Narrows League First Team in 2012. “We are ready for this year, just to get out there and win and go as far as we can.”
The two first met as members of the Olympia Volleyball Club less than a decade ago, and while both had attended the same middle school, they did not realize it until they talked at that first practice. It was at that time that a bond was forged, both as future teammates and friends.
“You can create a better friendship and can become better teammates just knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Manke, the setter for Timberline. “We feed off each other.”
“We can communicate without talking, we just know what we will do in certain situations,” said Podowicz, the top middle hitter for Timberline. “It’s something we don’t see too often on other teams.”
As expected, the two have seen their statistics improve every year. Manke had 536 assists last year as compared to 200 as a freshmen. Podowicz increased her season total of 83 kills as a freshmen to 289 as a junior. Together, the two have over 900 digs (Manke 587, Podowicz 396), 250 service aces (Manke 168, Podowicz 87) and 850 kills (Manke 169, Podowicz 655) combined over their career.
While these statistics are impressive, Podowicz and Manke’s impact on the Timberline program stretches beyond the numbers.
“I think leadership wise, both have stepped up. They’ll stop a drill during practice, and will talk through it with the rest of the girls,” said Krista Manke, who has coached Timberline since 2005. “They’re very mature, and have helped instill that attitude of trust and having each other’s back.”
Coach Manke’s own journey in the sport has shown her daughter and Podowicz exactly what it takes to be successful in something you have a passion for.
As a standout player at Centralia High School, Manke suffered a leg injury following her senior season that took away any chance of playing in college. As a 19-year-old, Manke began coaching at Mossy Rock as an assistant and then River Ridge High School after that. In 2000, Manke became an assistant at Timberline and would take over five seasons later.
In 2007, Timberline made their first appearance at the state tournament in 29 years, and have only missed the tournament (2008) once since then.
During that early run of success, Podowicz and Manke were close followers of the team, attending games, camps, and looking up to players such as Megan Birge (who is now an assistant for the Blazers). Seeing that high standard, showed the two what it would take to make their own legacy at the school.
“It was cool to watch, just to see them play so well,” said Podowicz. “We wanted the same thing.”
“I can see how hard she works off the court, making drills, conditioning workouts, and how much time she puts into the sport,” said Hunter Manke of her mom. “It’s part of the standard she’s set.”
The Blazers are in the midst of holding tryouts for underclassmen, new students and incoming freshmen. For established players like Manke and Podowicz, it’s a time to welcome the new players to the Timberline family.
“We take in new people and don’t want to have just a varsity, JV and c-team,” said Podowicz. “We want to have a whole family dynamic.”
During the summer and time away from their high school team, Podowicz and Manke played club ball for 253 Elite and the Lake Tapps Volleyball Club respectively. While club ball keeps their skills sharp and the game fresh in their mind, both Podowicz and Manke continue to push themselves through grueling off-season workouts. Those workouts and their coach’s insistence on a high standard of conditioning have given the Blazers the edge in long, five set matches.
“We do a lot of core work, running stairs, running sprints, all of that,” said Podowicz. “Also some circuit training, and some insanity workouts. It’s all worth it, because you know that it will help you win some of those games when the other team is tired.”
“You can look across the net and see when the other team is tired,” said Manke. “We are good under pressure because of that. You don’t have time to be scared. You have to be in shape and be ready to take the game.”
“We run a lot, we condition a lot, but the coaches do it too,” said Krista Manke with a laugh. “We don’t make them do anything we can’t do.”
It’s clear that Manke and Podowicz are the two standouts for the Blazer team, but coach Manke is quick to point out that they have a great base of talent around them.
“Emily Tate is a junior and was second team all-league last year, and she’s becoming a leader. We have a new libero, Cory Tucker, and she’s embraced that roll as a senior and has become a spark plug,” said Krista Manke, who’s niece Jensyn McCoy is a standout for Black Hills High School. “Even though we have this great setter and middle hitter connection, our whole team has a role in this and we have a large collection of talent. We are blessed to be who we are because of every player and every coach.”
For Riley and Hunter, most of the enjoyment they get from playing is due to the pride they have in their school and the support they receive from the student body and the surrounding community.
“Wearing Timberline on your jersey, that means so much to me. We get so much fan support and we like to go to all the other sports,” said Podowicz, who hopes to play volleyball at the collegiate level but has yet to decide on a school yet. “Playing North Thurston at home (who finished second at the state tournament in 2012) beating them in five sets, having all the fans storm the court, that’s something I’ll never forget.”
“We have a connection with all the students, not just the athletes. The whole community at Timberline is together,” said Manke, who plans to attend college and pursue her dream of becoming a health and consumer science teacher. “Like Riley said, that game against North Thurston was a blackout here. Everyone in the stands wore a black shirt. It was so loud, so fun and I think that will always be our most memorable experience here.”
What could surpass that match against North Thurston would be a deep run into the State tournament.
“We want to take first in league, make it to districts, and go as far as we can,” said Manke, who’s been playing volleyball since she was nine years old.
“We want everyone at practice every day, working hard going all out and be dedicated to the team,” Podowicz quickly added.
“We have good feeling about this year,” Manke added in response. “It’s going to be fun.”