Mandy Flores-Handley has been a part of the fabric of volleyball in the area for many years, going as far back as when she was a two-sport star for Pacific Lutheran University.
She helped the PLU volleyball program claim its first Northwest Conference title, in 1999. In softball, she was a part of a team that finished third at the NAIA National Tournament in 1997, as well as earning NAIA second team All-American honors in 1998.
The many accomplishments in both volleyball and softball have led PLU to induct Flores-Handley into the college’s Hall of Fame .
“I came home one day and there was a voicemail — which I rarely check — and it was the athletic director telling me that I was being inducted,” Flores-Handley said of how she was notified of the honor. “So never checking the voicemail and then all the sudden you do — that was kind of a big deal — like it can’t be happening.”
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“I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe this is happening.”
When Flores-Handley ended her college career in 2000, she was the Lutes’ all-time leader in aces (162) and had a school-best 77 aces in 1997. The program piled up 140 wins and three conference titles during her playing career.
The feats were great for Flores-Handley; the memories were even better.
“I have lot’s a great memories. PLU’s first conference championship (in volleyball),” she said. “My freshman year, I was able to compete on the national softball team that placed third in the nation at third base … it’s so memorable, it’s just one of those things you just hold in your heart.”
After playing for PLU, Flores-Handley has taken the philosophy she’s leaned from her coaches and applied it to help bring up the next generation of volleyball players.
From coaching Rogers High to several Class 4A state berths to leading her club team, Lake Tapps Club Volleyball, to a national championship this past summer, Flores-Handley has never forgotten where’s she’s come from.
She’s never forgotten that she is a Lute.
It’s amazing how a single person can make an impact on so many lives. Flores-Handley has been that exact person — someone who impacts those around them for the better. It’s a habit she learned from playing under PLU head coaches Kevin Aoki (volleyball) and Rick Noren (softball).
“They influenced my life so much during that time. It’s such a pivotal time because your becoming a young adult and moving away from home,” Flores-Handley said. “Those years of my life were huge in regard to who I am today. And in regards to what I give back when I’m coaching.”
It’s an understanding that becoming a coach is a responsibility of demonstration — that the actions of a coach will have an impression on their players, for better or worse.
“I’m so proud of her. (But) when she told us, she didn’t want to tell us because she was being super humble about it,” said Emerald Ridge High senior Makenna Smith, who also plays for Lake Tapps Club Volleyball. “It’s such an honor to know that she was my coach for two years, and she’s such an inspiration.”
For Flores-Handley, her role models have helped her understand the nuances of coaching. That it takes more than just coaching the best teams, it’s about creating a deep connection to young girls trying to understand how to navigate that very same world she once went through.
“She’s tough,” Smith said about Flores-Handley’s coaching style. “(But) once you get to know her coaching style, you can begin to understand how it begins to help improve your game.”
“I love coaching because it’s a chance to give back to the kids,” Flores-Handley said. “Somebody who influences their life, like how the coaches influenced my life. It’s more than about teaching them the game, but responsibility, accountability and how to do something with passion and love it.”
As a cancer survivor — Hodgkin’s lymphoma — Flores-Handley has a lot to offer and teach when it comes to how to appreciate the life we are given.
But that’s just who Flores-Handley is when it comes down to it.
Whether it’s making a random side trip 15 miles east of Disneyland while on vacation just to surprise a former player on her last game in college or making trips out to see her players from her club team play in high school, it’s always been about making an impact on the she comes across.
“The thing I love about coaching is the lasting relationships you make with these girls. It’s making an impression on their lives I care about most,” Flores-Handley said. “I love the fact I get to support so many different girls on different teams. Especially when you show up and it surprises them because they don’t expect to see you there”
“Those are the moments I cherish most.”
Flores-Handley now has one more moment to add to the many in her life: becoming a member of the Pacific Lutheran University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Mandy Flores-Handley career highlights:
Married to Shane Handley
Named PLU’s Athlete of the Year in 2000, Most Inspirational (volleyball) in 1997 and 1999.
Volleyball: set single season record in aces (77, 1997) and aces in a match (7). She left with a school best 162 career aces when she graduated. Helped Lutes claim first Northwest Conference title and reach their first post season.
Softball: A four year starter at third base, with being named to the all-conference team three times as well as earning NAIA second-team All-American honors in 1998. She graduated holding holding two spots in single-season runs scores (50 in 1999 and 46 in 2000), second ranked in average (.473 in 1998) and third in doubles (16 in 1999). During her playing career, PLU won 140 games and 3 conference titles as well as a third-place finish in the 1997 NAIA National Tournment.