by Phil Brozynski
Former Benet Academy standout Ariana Mankus' last day with her Sports Performance (Aurora, Illinois) 18 White teammates was a fairy tale worthy of Disney.
Mankus, who reported to United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on June 28 to begin her college career, was named MVP of the 18 Club division at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Tournament on June 20 after leading SPVB 18 White to the national championship.
SPVB 18 White defeated M-Juniors 18 Maize 25-19, 25-16, Premier 18-1 25-14, 25-13 and Louisiana Volleyball 18 Jon 25-21, 25-17 to win the national title. Mankus and teammates Amy Kendall and Lindsay Weber were named All-Americans.
"It was awesome," said Mankus, who along with her Benet teammates had to settle for second-place at last fall's Illinois Class 4A state tournament after the once-beaten Redwings were upset by St. Charles in the finals.
"We worked hard all season," she said. "Our goal was to medal at AAU's."
SPVB White learned three weeks ago it would not be competing in the 18's Open division at AAU's.
"There was a change of plans and we were put in the club division, but we were in it to win it," she added. "When we found out we were playing in the club division, we were a little disappointed. But we decided to make the best of it."
Mankus was given a hero's welcome when she returned to the home where SPVB 18 White was quartered during their trip to Orlando. Her teammates had decorated the house with streamers and hung banners that said "Goodbye" and "Good luck."
"I am excited about going to college, but also a little sad," Mankus said. "I will miss the girls. I will miss my teammates a lot. But change is good, so..."