All Drew Manusharow needed was a little push.
The idea of giving professional volleyball a chance never left his mind after a successful career at the University of Arizona, but the former Mountain Pointe star did what most college students do after graduating — jump into the work force.
Only Manusharow, 30, never fully got the volleyball out of his blood and it bubbled to the surface after playing in a Mountain Pointe alumni tournament.
Before that he started his own marketing company as a graphic designer and hadn’t played competitively in years. Manusharow, who helped the Pride to state titles in 1999 and 2000, was plodding along doing what is expected of all of us. Punch the time card, put in your time and forge a career path.
“When I made the choice to come back to Ahwatukee after graduating I went about finding a job like any other college graduate,” he wrote via email from Ireland. “I tried to connect with good people, network in the right circles and continue to grow. I always had volleyball in my heart as I found time to coach in my free time. I kept the idea of playing after college pretty low-key.”
The low-key approach became a burning desire that led him ultimately to a professional career in Germany after the two-time all-state selection played in a Mountain Pointe alumni tournament.
“The Mountain Pointe alumni tournament was full of positive energy from all the guys happy to play together again,” Manusharow wrote. “It was just pure love for the game. It was more less a catalyst for me than anything. Just being in that environment, complimented with my already existing healthy balanced life, propelled me to think more about the game.”
The 6-foot-7 opposite hitter wasn’t fully sold about giving a pro career a shot until a fateful trip to South Mountain.
“I looked out over the Valley and said, ‘Why not give it a shot?’” he told Volleyball Magazine in a recent article. “I knew I was capable; I just needed to mentally get ready for a whole new ballgame in Europe.”
Manusharow put his possessions in storage, flew to Rome and aligned himself with a company that showcases players, mostly newly-graduated college players not someone who had been out of the game for five years.
He traveled throughout Italy, showcased his game for professional scouts in exhibitions and explored a new country along the way.
“In order for a guy like me to get seen overseas I needed first to be seen, but the trouble was getting there,” Manusharow wrote. “I had to compete against the younger crop of players coming out of the NCAA and other leagues. I knew I was good enough to make a team, I just needed to get seen by a coach or program.”
Programs from Austria, Greece and Germany all showed interest and his heart led him to sign with FC Schuttorf 09, which is coached by Ralph Bergmann, an Olympian who played on the 2008 German national team.
Manusharow’s professional debut came 66 years to the date that his father, who died in 2004, was born in a small German village.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Manusharow wrote. “I had goose bumps in that first match. The culmination of the efforts and process to reach that goal mixed with the birthday of my father was a beautiful celebration of life. I felt grateful in all aspects of my life.”
Once he started playing, getting back in the groove, Manusharow relied on the same mantra he told his players when he was the junior varsity coach at Mountain Pointe in 2010.
He told his players all of the time: if you truly believe it, you can achieve it.
“Those weren’t just encouraging words, I mean them,” Manusharow wrote. “To this day I still believe they led me to Europe.”
Manusharow earned a spot as a middle blocker in September 2011, but weeks later proved his true calling this season as an opposite hitter helping his German Fc Schüttorf team win their league championship in the spring of 2012.
“For me, personally, the season was the most rewarding one I’ve ever had for many reasons and having my dream become a reality,” he wrote. “The hardest part was not knowing what country I was going to play in and then once you get picked up you need to acclimate as fast as possible to the living and playing environments. It includes, but is not limited to, learning the language.
“On the court we are a competitive group of guys from various nations and backgrounds. I loved being part of that and it has enriched my life outside of sports.”
Manusharow is thrilled with how everything has turned out so far. He could have very easily stayed put in Ahwatukee, build his marketing business and continue coaching the Pride JV, but then he wouldn’t have been listening to his own advice.
If you truly believe it, you can achieve it.
“I took a huge leap of faith and it was a huge risk,” said Manusharow, who wears a ‘Believe’ wristband to remind himself of his own words. “I am an adult with adult responsibilities. I had to prepare for winning or losing. I expected the best, but prepared for the worst. I had to evaluate the cost and risk of what I was getting myself into.
“I had the right confidence that I was not going to come back to America anytime soon. I knew it was meant to be for me to play. I just needed to perform.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.