Mari Jo Massanet will try to win her first state track medals at the state meet this weekend, but it wouldn’t have happened without a key switch early in her high school career.
When the now MHS senior moved to Manhattan from Leavenworth just before her eighth-grade year, she started her Manhattan track career by throwing in the spring.
But in her freshman year, she switched to softball. Looking back, she doesn’t know why she left track for softball, but she’s glad she went back the following year.
“I did track in eighth grade and of course middle school doesn’t have softball, but I really loved throwing,” she said. “When I came in my sophomore year to do track I was supposed to throw javelin, but that’s all since changed.”
Massanet went on to take third in the shot put in seventh in the discus, followed by a second-place finish in shot put last year and a third in the discus. She is ranked first in the discus this weekend and third in the shot put.
Her career will conclude on Saturday with a staggering number of varsity letters, earning 12 in four total sports.
Of course, Massanet might be best known for the work she does on the volleyball and basketball courts.
She led the Indians to a Class 6A state volleyball title in 2010 and was named the Class 6A player of the year. She helped the MHS girls’ basketball team reach the state tournament for the first time in more than 20 seasons this year, and was named Flint Hills Player of the Year.
Looking back, she said it’s hard to believe all she has accomplished at MHS. Massanet said she thinks few people expected her to be varsity from ninth grade on.
“I knew when I came up here I was going to work my hardest,” she said. “I know it’s every freshman’s goal to start varsity, but it took a lot of hard work and a lot of time.”
MHS track coach Jesse Woodard said the 12-letter athlete seems to be a growing rarity at the 6A level.
And he already knows they are going to miss her hanging around the track team.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete and she will have success in college,” he said. “I wish I had several more of her to be honest, I can’t say enough about her.”
Massanet has signed to play volleyball and throw in track for Nebraska-Kearney next year, meaning her schedule won’t free up any time soon.
She will start hard into volleyball as soon as school starts, and start indoor track two weeks after the conclusion of volleyball, followed by outdoor track. Add in workouts for both sports and open gyms during the summer, and her schedule is still jam packed.
But she said the chance to do both sports she loves was hard to pass up.
“I really wanted to do both volleyball and track,” Massanet said. “Offers came up for just volleyball and when the opportunity came up to do both, I had to take it.”
The senior has taken a number of visits to Kearney and said the area reminds her of Manhattan, except she jokes it has a lot more corn. She has also seen the team in action at a few tournaments and has met future teammates and their parents.
Massanet said she credits a lot of coaches for playing a part in forming her into the player and person she is today. She has spent time working with current coaches in Woodard, Scott Mall and Lisa Kinderknecht, as well as former coaches Lori Martini and Gary Schwandt.
She is especially close to assistant track coach Daaron Lehart, who focuses on the throwers and pushed her to reach beyond her potential early in her track career.
“He’s a great coach,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from him, not just from being a thrower, but from being a person too. He is very competitive and that’s the type of person I am. I want to win and he wants to see me win and it’s just a great atmosphere.”
When Massanet finishes up her career on Saturday, the school will be saying its goodbye to an athlete that has continually left her mark on its programs over the last four years, and arguably the best female athlete at MHS in the last decade.
She’s come a long way since the girl who went from starting on the softball team as a freshman, to changing to track for her sophomore year and beyond.
But she said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’ll miss everything, I wouldn’t change anything,” she said. “I don’t regret playing so many sports, it kept me out of a lot of trouble and it made me a better person. It increased my leadership skills and showed me how to react to different situations. I’ve grown as an individual and made a lot of friends along the way.”