27/05/2024

VOLLEYBALL: Hometown hero Mancuso-Prososki excited to represent Omaha

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VOLLEYBALL: Hometown hero Mancuso-Prososki excited to represent Omaha

Former Monarch and Husker Gina Mancuso-Prososki has an opportunity not many American volleyball players have: to play where she grew up as a hometown hero.

Former Monarch and Husker Gina Mancuso-Prososki has an opportunity not many American volleyball players have: to play where she grew up as a hometown hero.

Former Monarch and Husker Gina Mancuso-Prososki has an opportunity not many American volleyball players have: to play where she grew up as a hometown hero.

With the inaugural season of the Pro Volleyball Federation coming next February, the United States will have a breakthrough in professional volleyball.

Backed by a group of investors that includes singer-songwriter Jason Derulo and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Omaha will be one of six locations around the country – Atlanta, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Orlando and San Diego being the others.

Founding partners also include Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer and volleyball pioneers Dr. Cecile Reynaud and Laurie Corbelli from the sports sphere, while Dave Whinman – President and CEO of The TEAM Management, LLC – and Stephen Evans – President of The Remedy – are the founders.

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Mancuso-Prososki -- who was inducted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame this year -- was initially approached by Jen Spicher – chosen as the PVF CEO – during her most recent season in a professional league in Puerto Rico with roommate and fellow Husker Madi Kubik ('22).

After the league was brought to her attention and she heard the details from Spicher, the 6-foot-1 outside hitter said one step led to the next, and she is now “completely honored” to be in the position she is.

“I cannot tell you enough how excited I am about this opportunity,” the Papillion-La Vista alum said. “It’s going to be so cool and just super impactful to not only the city but this whole entire state.”

Volleyball is already growing at the amateur level, but the PVF will go a step above.

“We all know that the state of Nebraska has crazy awesome volleyball fans, and the highest level we have right now is collegiate, and we get record-breaking crowds for these games,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “And so when you take it to the next level of professional, it’s just going to make the game that much faster, that much more exciting, and I really think that the state of Nebraska is truly going to fall in love with this entirely.”

If anyone knows about Nebraska and volleyball, it’s the Papillion-La Vista and Nebraska grad who won back-to-back state championships in 2007 and ‘08 with the Monarchs. In her time playing for J.J. Toczek, Mancuso-Prososki captained the all-state teams by the Lincoln Journal-Star and Omaha World-Herald, and was named the 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year, among a host of other accolades and scoreboard-busting stats. But through all the success, her main takeaway was the importance of effort and attitude.

“(Effort) is something that you can 100 percent of the time control,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “And I have a few memories here and there about when (Toczek) taught us all about effort.”

One of those memories – while an “inside story” they still talk about today – involves Jenny Hutt and a reminder to always “dive with your arm, even if the ball is 100 feet away.”

“He really taught us that lesson of effort, which in high school, as a teenager sometimes there’s that thought of well, I don’t want to be embarrassed or I don’t want to look silly, but that was not the case with my four years in high school thanks to coach Toczek. He really said attitude and effort are choices and we want to always choose the best attitude and the most, max amount of effort, and so I really can credit that to him, even in all areas of my life, it’s applicable.”

Carrying those lessons with the chemistry and fun the Monarchs had, Mancuso-Prososki then came into Nebraska as a highly-touted recruit who delivered at the college level.

An AVCA First-Team (2011) and Second-Team ('12) All-American – along with twice being selected to the All-Big Ten First Team – Mancuso-Prososki learned a lot from 23-year Huskers head coach John Cook, and also developed a close bond with his daughter, Lauren.

Being the same age, Mancuso-Prososki played with Lauren from the age of 12 and meant more than just four years in learning from coach Cook.

“There’s a huge investment in players with scholarships, but it’s really the coaches’ responsibility to invest in them beyond the financials,” Mancuso-Prososki said. “They want that player to succeed. They want them to be the best that they can be, they want them to thrive not only physically but mentally.”

With coach Cook, it went beyond that. Mancuso-Prososki learned above all to be able to adjust.

“That has been a huge mentality, yes in my collegiate time, but really, its’ applicable in all areas of my life,” she said. “Life isn’t easy for all of us, there are hard times, there are times when plans get all up in a whack and it’s just like, okay, the great ones adjust. And I really love that coach Cook really preached that to us all the time, because it’s such a powerful mindset to not get down, to not give up, but to find a solution, to rise above and just endure and persevere.”

After her time in Lincoln, Mancuso-Prososki went on to play at the highest level professionally, winning a bronze medal in the Champions League, while holding a pair of League and Cup Championships each. Her experience also includes Rabita Baku in Azerbaijan and Dresdner SC in Germany, where she won titles in all three leagues. Mancuso-Prososki also has experience playing for Team USA’s youth teams, and comes from an athletic background, as father Mike played quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, and older sister Dani Mancuso-Helu played at Nebraska before going pro herself.

In a press release from Nebraska Pro Volleyball, head coach Shelton Collier – a 21-year head volleyball coach at Wingate University with over 1,000 wins following nine years as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh – called Mancuso-Prososki a “franchise player” who will be involved in additional team activities to include team promotion.

“Nebraska Pro Volleyball’s leadership made a wonderful decision designating Gina as Omaha’s first franchise player,” said Collier. “Gina is coming off a strong season playing in the international professional league in Puerto Rico and will certainly add value to our Omaha team in many ways both on and off the court. She is the ideal player for this important position as a franchise player.

“Gina is a popular player and award-winning former Husker residing here in Omaha. She has an engaging personality and vibe that will allow her to excel as she is involved with a wide range of promotional and team-building activities between now and the start of our season in early 2024.”

Now fulfilling a “dream come true,” there are benefits to returning home after having an all-too-common understanding that she would never play in front of her family again debunked.

“So the fact that professional women's professional volleyball is starting in the United States next year is a dream come true, not only for myself, but I know several other players who ended their career sooner than they probably should have or wanted to. Because going overseas is not for everybody. It's a big sacrifice to leave your family and friends, your home.”

Being able to play at home offers not only comfortability, but also a fix of a language barrier and lack of communication.

“In my time in Azerbaijan, it's like a mix of Russian and Turkish, there was zero communication between my head coach and I. So, that is something that will be drastically different here in the United States, obviously, because of that language barrier, there's a lack of coaching, because you can't communicate with your coach so that overseas, your head coach really relies on you as a professional to show up, do the things that you have to do to not only mentally prepare yourself, but physically prepare yourself and show up and do your job.”

With the support of a “ton of Manusos” and a big Prososki family, the familiarity of home, and the backing of Husker Nation and large investments, Mancuso-Prososki is hesitant about the hometown hero label but uses it as motivation to invest and connect in her hometown.

“I can't express enough how excited I am to do all of that, to dive into the community, to just feel the love and the support that I know we've always had, but now it's gonna be different, and I just can't wait for all of those opportunities, all of those connections, the networking really, even though I've been here my whole life. I'm really excited to even learn more about my hometown and the different people that all come across. It's gonna be a crazy cool wild ride.”

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