University of Montana release
Elise Jolly and Holly Manchester don't describe themselves as inseparable, but their common interests tie them together frequently. Volleyball led them both to Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, where they were teammates for three years and roommates for the past two. They earned undergraduate degrees in the same program, and away from school, find similar interests in hiking, being outdoors and exploring coffee shops.
When their time at Saint Anselm came to a close this past spring, and both were looking for their next volleyball and academic opportunities, it was never either of their intentions to end up at the same school.
But when things worked out that way, it didn't really surprise anyone either.
"When we told people we were both coming to Montana, the reaction was, 'Well of course you are'," Manchester said. "It wasn't planned or expected, but when people found out it completely made sense to them."
Manchester's brother worked at nearby Big Sky Resort, an area that intrigued both Jolly and Manchester. The initial plan was to graduate from Saint Anselm, spend the summer working at Big Sky and then go their separate ways to finish out their careers.
As conversation between Jolly and the Montana coaching staff progressed, however, the Griz staff learned of Manchester.
From Montana's end, what started as one turned to two.
From the players' sides, what started as a summer job led to a new home.
And from the perspective of all parties, things kind of fell into place, and everyone is now a beneficiary.
The student-athletes were offered summer jobs as base-camp guides at Big Sky, but later turned them down in place of scholarships. The 38-hour drive from New Hampshire to Missoula was extended, first spending time in Wisconsin with Manchester's family, before a detour to Texas for a post-grad celebration with friends.
The two arrived to Montana earlier this month – intentionally at the start of summer instead of still working at Big Sky – and are eager to get to work.
"I am super excited to be here," Manchester said. "I know it's going to be like nothing I've done before. In the summer, DII training is all on your own and pretty non-existent. I know it's going to be tough, but I'm excited to challenge myself and see what my potential is. I'm excited to get out of my comfort zone and really push myself."
Offseason workouts were part of the reason the two traveled to Montana early in the summer, to get a head start in a new environment. The other part, though, was to take advantage of everything Montana has to offer.
"Once you're in season it's go, go, go," Jolly said. "Right now, you get to meet the team and train with everyone and just form bonds in a beautiful setting. I'm so excited to finally be here. I can't wait to get to work and get my butt kicked in the gym."
Playing at the Division-II level the past several seasons, both Jolly and Manchester have the skillset that head coach Allison Lawrence believes will transition to the Big Sky Conference.
Jolly has the frame of a talented outside hitter, standing at 6-3. After redshirting during her first collegiate season, at the University of Delaware, she played in 64 matches across two complete seasons at Saint Anselm, tallying 582 kills (2.51 per set), in addition to 88 service aces (0.38) and 137 blocks (0.59). She led the Hawks in blocking in both 2018 and 2019, even ranking in the top 10 in the conference. In 2019, Jolly earned All-Northeast-10 Conference recognition while ranking in the top 10 in the league for kills and aces, as well, and finishing in the top 10 in school history for kills in a season.
"We were watching a lot of film, and comparing a lot of film, and the thing that stood out to us about Elise was that she has a really good arm swing," Lawrence said. "It started from there, seeing a really functional arm, and the more we watched the more we saw a player who could come in right away, and with really solid fundamentals, execute at a high level under pressure.
"As we started to get to know her and talk on the phone with her, it became so apparent to us that she also has such a championship mindset on and off the court."
Jolly was the first to come onto Montana's radar, initially reaching out during her search for a new home after graduating from Saint Anselm with eligibility still remaining (Saint Anselm does not offer graduate coursework).
"I grew up in New Hampshire and lived in that region my whole life," she said. "I knew I just needed to go experience something besides what I've always known. On a whim, I thought about where I would like to go, and Montana was always a place I wanted to explore.
"Once I started talking to them, I realized they had the grad program I was looking at (master of business administration), they had what I wanted from a volleyball standpoint and everything just came together. How could I say no?"
As conversation progressed between Jolly and the Griz coaching staff, it became clear there was a fit. What wasn't known at that time, however, was that there would be more.
Both Jolly and Manchester were finishing up their undergraduate degrees in business administration at Saint Anselm. The two were both looking for their next opportunities – to finish their volleyball careers at the Division-I level while earning master's degrees – and while there was no intention of going to the same school, they'll admit there was some crossover in potential options because of their shared common interests.
Naturally, a fit for Jolly is often times a fit for Manchester, and vice versa.
And it just so happened that Manchester was sitting beside Jolly during one of her first conversations with the Montana staff.
"I was listening to it all and it sounded so great," Manchester recalled. "The coaches sounded really nice, and everything they were saying about the school and volleyball program and city sounded amazing."
Jolly prompted her teammate to reach out and send film, which led to a handful of direct conversations.
Soon after Jolly committed – with Manchester and some of her other Saint Anselm teammates in the room cheering her on – Manchester got her chance to say 'yes'.
"It's such a unique situation, going in and finding two players from the same school," Lawrence said. "It didn't start that way, but the more we watched Elise's film, and then the more we talked and heard about Holly, it became apparent that there was something there.
"I think the thing I really appreciate about both of them, though, is they talked about how much they wanted to rely on each other in their move here together, but also have very independent experiences. Their maturity allows them to do that really well, and they've already bonded with different players and have immersed themselves here really well."
Listed at 6-0, Manchester started at middle blocker throughout her career at Saint Anselm. The graduate transfer played three full seasons for the Hawks, accumulating 86 matches played, 416 kills (1.34 per set) and 212 blocks (0.68). She was among Saint Anselm's top blockers during her career, and in 2017 ranked fifth in the Northeast-10 Conference for blocking, while being named to the league's all-rookie team.
Both Jolly and Manchester earned Northeast-10 Conference Academic Honor Roll status every year, as well.
"What we noticed about Holly was how efficient she moved on the court," Lawrence said. "We were in a spot where we wanted to add a middle with some experience, and she fit that. She has a smart attacking game, which allows her to terminate at a high level, and she really sees the game well and manages the game well."
Now that they're here, the duo is eager to get going.
As it was for Montana and many across the country, Saint Anselm's 2020 season was interrupted. Originally shifted to the spring, the school then had trouble finding other teams who were able to play a full season, leading to a spring that consisted of just two exhibition matches and a pair of intrasquad scrimmages. During the fall, the pandemic limited the team to just one indoor practice, with the group spending most of its time training outdoors on grass courts.
"Coming off this past year with limited options to play, and really limited options to be in a gym, I just want to be out there again," Jolly said. "It's been a long time coming, but I'm really excited for the opportunities that Montana provides."
Plus, she gets to do it with one of her best friends.
"You have somebody you've trained with and played with, and that's a cool opportunity that very few people have," she said.
Added Manchester: This is a completely different chapter of our lives; we're not in our undergrad anymore. We're ready to take the next step, and it's nice to have someone by my side to go in it with."
Elise Jolly / 6-3 / Outside Hitter / Merrimack, New Hampshire / Saint Anselm College / Delaware / Merrimack High School
Saint Anselm College (2018-21): Played in 65 matches across two-plus seasons at Saint Anselm, earning 33 starts and All-Northeast-10 Conference recognition in 2019, plus an honorable-mention nod in 2018… Accumulated 582 kills (2.51 per set), 137 blocks (0.59) and 88 service aces (0.38) during her two-year career… Recorded double-figure kills totals 30 times, hitting over .300 in 18 of those matches… In 2018, hit over .500 three times, twice doing so with at least 10 kills and zero errors… Closed the 2019 season with five consecutive matches in double figures for kills, including 20 (on .326 hitting) vs. New Haven, in the conference tournament semifinals, and a career-high 21 (at a .304 clip) vs. Molloy, in the NCAA DII East Region Semifinals… That year, she ranked sixth in the NE10 for kills, also ranking in the top 10 in Saint Anselm single-season history… Led Saint Anselm with 40 service aces (0.36 per set) in 2018, before adding 44 more (0.38 per set) in 2019… Both averages ranked in the top 10 in the NE10 during those seasons… Recorded an ace in 46 career matches, posting multiple aces 25 times and five vs. Felician in 2019… During the 2018 season, served up three service aces in four consecutive matches midway through the season… Had at least one block in 54 career matches, including every contest in 2018, when she ranked eighth in the NE10… Recorded six blocks in a match five times, including her final contest, vs. Stonehill… Helped Saint Anselm to two Division-II NCAA tournament appearances, one NCAA regional semifinal berth and a pair of trips to the semifinals of NE10 tournament… Earned Northeast-10 Conference Fall Commissioner's Honor Roll recognition every season… Played alongside current teammate Holly Manchester.
Delaware (2017): Began her collegiate career at the University of Delaware, redshirting during the 2017 season and being named to the university's dean's list.
High School: Is a 2017 graduate of Merrimack High School in Merrimack, New Hampshire… Set the New Hampshire state record with 274 career blocks, in addition to ranking first in Merrimack school history for career kills… Became the second member of the 1,000-kills club in the state of New Hampshire… Earned three all-state selections, including first-team honors in 2015 and 2016… Was a two-time captain and team MVP as a senior… Helped Merrimack win a 2014 state championship, as a sophomore, and advanced to the state semifinals in 2013 and 2015… Also earned varsity letters in basketball, lacrosse, swimming and track & field… Set a New Hampshire state record in the 200 medley relay in swimming… Competed in the high jump, long jump and javelin at state in track & field… Head volleyball coach was Tammy Lambrou… Played club volleyball for Hardrock Volleyball… Was a member of the National Honor Society and was her class vice president for three years and secretary for one.
Personal: Born in Manchester, New Hampshire… Hometown is Merrimack, New Hampshire… Parents are Jim and Kathleen Jolly… Is the youngest of five siblings: Emily, Kara and Rebecca and James… Father swam at Vanderbilt… Uncle, Dan Powers, played football at Indiana, as did cousin, Blake Powers… cousin, Hannah Bennett, played volleyball at Lehigh… Graduated from Saint Anselm College in May 2021 with an undergraduate degree in business administration, with a minor in studio art… Is working toward her mater of business administration degree from Montana, with an entrepreneurship certificate.
Holly Manchester / 6-0 / Middle Blocker / Lodi, Wisconsin / Saint Anselm College / Lodi High School
Saint Anselm College (2017-21): Played in 87 matches across three-plus seasons at Saint Anselm, earning 61 starts… Accumulated 416 kills (1.34 per set) and 212 blocks (0.68 per set)… Recorded a block in 75 different matches, totaling multiple blocks 56 times and at least five stuffs on 13 occasions… Reached five or more kills in 45 matches, including a career-high 12 vs. Tusculum… Was named to the Northeast-10 Conference All-Rookie Team in 2017, after leading the Hawks and ranking fifth in the conference with 0.90 blocks per set… As a junior in 2019, led Saint Anselm with 64 blocks (0.54 per set), including 15 solo stuffs… That season she also ranked in the top five on the team with 149 kills (1.26 per set) and a .233 hitting percentage… Recorded a season-high seven blocks against Molloy, in the 2019 NCAA DII East Region Semifinals… Recorded a career-high nine blocks, in addition to eight kills, in a four-set win over Bentley in 2017… In an abbreviated Spring 2021 season, was named a team captain… In her final match, vs. Stonehill, she recorded five kills on six swings (.833 hitting), in addition to four blocks… Helped Saint Anselm to two Division-II NCAA tournament appearances, one NCAA regional semifinal berth and three trips to the semifinals of Northeast-10 Conference tournament… Earned Northeast-10 Conference Fall Commissioner's Honor Roll recognition every season… Played alongside current teammate Elise Jolly.
High School: Is a 2017 graduate of Lodi High School in Lodi, Wisconsin… Earned first-team all-conference honors as a senior, in addition to honorable mention all-area recognition… Named her team's 2016 MVP after winning a regional title that fall… In addition to four varsity letters in volleyball, she earned four letters apiece in both track & field and basketball… Won a regional championship in the high jump in 2015, and was part of the state 4x800-meter relay team in 2017… Helped the Blue Devils to three regional titles in track & field… Was twice named a captain for her track & field and basketball teams … Head volleyball coaches were Nancy Rabensdorf and Adaora Bilse… Played club volleyball for Wisconsin Select… Was an honor-roll student every semester of high school and earned all-academic honors in volleyball.
Personal: Born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire… Spent 12 years in Massachusetts before moving to her hometown of Lodi, Wisconsin… Parents are John and Deb Manchester… Has an older brother, Drew, and an older sister, Jennah… Mother swam at Principia College… Brother was a rower at Wisconsin… Graduated from Saint Anselm College in May 2021 with a degree in business marketing… Is working toward her mater of business administration degree from Montana.