At first glance, Zaira Manzo may come across as shy and highly timid, but don’t let that fool you.
Averaging a total of 12 sets per game, it is no doubt that she is the heart of Florida A&M University’s volleyball team.
Head coach Tanio Trifonov, while in Peru on a recruitment trip recruited Manzo, who is a second-year Spanish language student from Lima, Peru.
“I saw her practicing there,” Trifonov said. “We liked her as a setter and we had already recruited a couple of girls from the same team that she played on.”
Manzo’s decision to come to FAMU was not an easy one, but with the help of her parents she was able to overcome her difficult decision.
“They don’t have many opportunities to get an education and play volleyball in Peru,” said Manzo, 18. “There are a whole lot more opportunities here in the U.S.”
When she first came to FAMU, Manzo had a difficult time adjusting to the North American lifestyle. She could not speak the language, nor was she accustomed to being a student and an athlete. “It wasn’t very easy. I have to find time to study before practice, after practice and while we are on the road,” Manzo said.
Not only is it difficult adjusting to the lifestyle, Manzo has to sacrifice seeing her family only once a year.
“It is hard being away from my family,” Manzo said. “I really miss them.”
Manzo’s relationship with her teammates and her coaches helps her overcome the fact that she does not get to visit her family often.
“They are helping me grow as a player and correct my problems,” Manzo said.
Outside of volleyball and school, Manzo is the typical college student. Her coaches and teammates describe her as funny and outgoing.
“She’s a cool girl,” said Maria Gomez, 20, a sophomore economics student from Ecuador. “My favorite moments with her are when we make a really nice play in games.”
Gomez and Manzo met when they were 15-years-old while in Peru for a championship game. They both played for opposing national teams.
Manzo would like to play professional volleyball, however she is keeping her options open.
In the mean time, she is focused on winning the first round in the NCAA championship game.
“As a center she has contributed a lot,” Trifonov said. “She’s a play maker like a quarterback on a football team or a guard on a basketball team. It is important to have a good player in that position. She has done her job.”
This year, FAMU’s volleyball team has a record of 18-7. It is undefeated in the MEAC conference and,with Manzo’s help, the team has lots of potential to be successful in the NCAA championships.
“We are a young team and we have lots to learn,” Trifonov said. “But, we are also a strong team with lots of potential.”