Mitch Manware is not one to shy away from hard work. As a matter of fact, he welcomes it.
In a season where the Cheshire boys volleyball team was not expected to be its usual dominant squad, Manware, Cheshire’s libero, would hear none of that.
With a “refuse to let anything hit the floor” mentality, Manware made sure his senior campaign for the Rams was special.
“It is tough being the libero as you don’t get the crazy kills or blocks,” Manware said after being named the Register’s Area MVP. “But, the pride of the defense is not having any ball hit the floor. I didn’t want the ball to hit the bleachers or the floor. It was definitely all about that. Our team showed a lot of heart. We were so good defensively.”
As the team’s libero, Manware’s job was two-fold. Not only did he have to prevent any ball from hitting the floor, he then had to execute a perfect pass to get the offense going. What is typically a hard task was made easy by the work of Manware.
“Obviously, he was a three-year starter for us as he started halfway through his sophomore year when we had an injury,” Cheshire coach Sue Bavone said. “He has just gotten better each year. He reads the ball well. He plays the gym, not the court. He is very competitive, and he is basically our vocal leader on the court. He had the motto “No ball hits the floor” and he made sure of that. He made so many spectacular plays throughout his career. He definitely epitomizes the position of the libero.”
The senior, who will be attending the University of Connecticut in the fall to study finance, finished his senior season with 102 digs, while completing 86 percent of his passes on a Cheshire team which was 18-0 in the regular season and 21-2 overall.
“This was a great year for us,” Manware said. “I played with my friends, who I have played with my whole life. After last year where it was disappointing when we lost in the quarterfinals, people thought we would not come back as strong. We picked up a few guys and we came back to have a great year. It was a good way for the senior class to go out.”
Manware was not just a defensive gem. Whatever Bavone needed from her senior leader she would get and then some.
A 92 percent server this season, Manware finished his high school career as a two-time All-Southern Connecticut Conference and All-Area selection, in addition to the SCC Player of the Year. Manware was also a participant in the Connecticut Senior Select All-Star game.
“I think it was his pure athleticism,” Bavone said. “He just kind of grew into the position. He made it his own. A lot of people may hide some players in the libero position. I want my best player and my most vocal player in that jersey. He is the last line of defense and can see everything coming. He can help the front row and give direction where to hit. Mitch played at a high level there. He made people around him better. He played with that level of confidence that we had new guys come in and we did not skip a beat. Mitch made them feel comfortable.”
While Manware has received many accolades for his work, one particular award stands out above the rest: he is a four-time member of the SCC All-Academic team.
“The whole senior group did very well academically,” Bavone said. “The team, in general, is very smart. They are really bright guys who excel in the classroom. It is not a coincidence they very successful in volleyball and the classroom. They go hand in hand as far as work ethic. Those who are overachievers and high academics usually are the same athletically. They are hard-wired like that.”
In her 15th season with the Rams on the boys side, Bavone would be hard-pressed to find a better player at the position than Manware.
“There was not any ball he thought he couldn’t get to,” Bavone said. “What was most impressive is the way he played was the way he practiced. Some kids take it easy, then turn it on in the game. He had no off switch. Once he was on the court, he was the same. He set an example for all the young guys. He showed them not to take any plays off.”
Manware attributes plenty of his success to Bavone and the coaching staff at Cheshire, saying he only had to look at their intensity to know what was expected.
“They had that intensity and passion,” Manware said of his coaches. “They brought it to practice every day. They are just as intense on the court. I will miss playing against them on the court. They pushed us to be the best.”