Mother knows best

Abby and Isabel Manning share the stage for VBC volleyball

Coach Abby Manning (left) and her daughter Isabel Manning are sharing the stage together in 2020, as Abby coaches her daughter in her final year of high school volleyball. (Andy Krutsinger/The Union)
Coach Abby Manning (left) and her daughter Isabel Manning are sharing the stage together in 2020, as Abby coaches her daughter in her final year of high school volleyball. (Andy Krutsinger/The Union)

KEOSAUQUA – When Van Buren County senior Isabel Manning was just a middle-schooler, mother Abby Manning didn’t envision herself as a coach.

Abby earned her coaching certificate as a “just in case” measure. Now, just a handful of years later, she is on the sidelines as the Van Buren County head coach in her daughter’s senior year.

The head coaching position opened after longtime coach Matt Zeitler retired from the volleyball world after leading the 2019 squad to the first state tournament appearance in school history. Abby already had a repertoire with the team, having coached them in eighth-grade, so she decided to give it a shot.

“I thought, I’ve already got a connection with these girls,” Abby said. “I’ve already coached them young, and I’ve watched them grow up, so I wanted to coach them for this year.”

Isabel was all for it.

She was coming off an all-state year at libero, but with some new faces around her after the majority of the starting lineup graduated last spring.

“I really wanted her to coach because I think it’s really cool that she coached our group in eighth-grade,” Isabel said. “I really wanted to have her coach us as seniors.”

Along with the opportunity to coach her daughter, along with cousin Shea Scott, also a senior, the new challenge serves to scratch Abby’s competitive itch.

Both Abby and Isabel agree that mom is the more competitive of the two. Abby was a stellar high school athlete herself and has continued to be heavily involved in sports, playing basketball and tennis in college.

“I love a challenge,” Abby said. “Before we had kids, my husband (Nate) and I used to compete against each other. It didn’t matter what it was; fishing, tennis, basketball. I occasionally would hit him with the tennis racket if he beat me.”

Both Nate and Abby were fantastic athletes for Van Buren, and both Isabel and sophomore brother, Jackson, have the athletic genes in spades.

Isabel, a Clarke University basketball commit, has all the skills on the volleyball court. Last year she was a star libero and this year she switched to the setter position. She still gets up for the occasional kill.

“It’s been very different,” Isabel said. “I think right off the bat, Mom kind of wanted us working on that rotation in practice, getting used to our different roles.”

With Abby’s competitiveness comes a strict coaching style. She says she isn’t afraid to point her index finger and tell the team what needs to be done.

“I’m hard-nosed,” Abby said, with Isabel smiling and nodding fervently. “The finger comes out. Thankfully, these girls saw that in junior high with me, and I haven’t terrified anybody too much.”

Abby is quite motivating in other ways, too. Isabel says her mom is good at motivational speeches, which she gives before games.

Abby’s mom was a preacher of motivational quotes, and those catchy phrases often leak out when she’s getting the Warriors ready.

“‘Just keep swimming,’ that’s our motto,” Isabel said.

The quote came after a rough outing in the Warriors’ first set against Central Lee at Saturday’s tournament in Keokuk. VBC lost the opener 21-2, but after hearing the phrase frin “Finding Nemo,” the Warriors gave the Hawks all they could handle in a 25-23 loss in the second set.

“It’s true. In life, you’ve just got to do that,” Abby said. “You’re up against so many obstacles in life, and you just have to do the best, to the best of your ability.”

Abby says coaching the volleyball team is probably a short-term deal. She would like to have more free time to watch Jackson, who was already playing varsity basketball and baseball for Van Buren County as a freshman.

“Next year, I won’t want to miss out on his games,” Abby said. “But you never know. He’s going to be done in two years, and I may need something to do.”

So Abby and Isabel are soaking up the year together on the court. They both seem to be enjoying the ride.

For Isabel, it means having one of her biggest supporters right there with her in her senior year.

“I love having her as a mom,” Isabel said. “All around, she’s so supportive in every single thing. With sports, school or any other personal thing that is going on, I can always talk to her.”

The two have just under a month before postseason play starts, and they get to wrap up what has been a special fall together where the two have been able to get a boost in mother-daughter time.

“I would say she is the kindest human being that I’ve ever met,” Abby said. “Every parent says that about their kid, but she is truly the best human I’ve ever came across. She has been a complete joy to have as a daughter.”