Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic freshman Noelle Mannen has fit in right away with the Valiant program at the point guard spot.

For as commanding and complete a team as Valley Catholic was last year, ripping off more than 20 straight victories, winning a league title and reaching the Class 3A state championship game, there was one final piece missing.

When Grace Mannen went down with a season-ending torn ACL, it forced Valley to shift eventual 3A Player of the Year Lindsie LaBonte to point guard, a spot the senior held down sturdily for the rest of the season.

Yet, while the shift predominantly put the ball in their best player’s hands, Mannen’s positive, pass-first efforts to Valley’s stars was gone, especially in its state title loss when the game’s intensity ratcheted up tenfold.

Valley needed a straw to stir the drink, a layer of smooth icing to put on the top of the cake. Fast forward nine months to 2015. Many of the Valiants stars from last season are back, including a trio of towering, powerful posts in Maddie Vinson, Bailey McDevitt and Molly Danielson. Senior second-team all-state southpaw Kaylynn Bush also returns, giving Valley a deep, tall, athletic frontline that most teams can’t match.

This season, however, it appears the Valiants have already found someone to fill Mannen’s selfless role, a player with the same last name and a similar game to boot. In freshman Noelle Mannen, a ballhandling, dish-happy point guard, Valley could have its missing link as it takes on the foreign 4A landscape.

Needless to say, the season is just now getting fully underway and the Cowapa League hasn’t commenced yet. Noelle Mannen isn’t even halfway through her first year of varsity basketball.

But, ask the veterans surrounding 5-foot-4 dynamo and it’s clear Mannen has already made a favorable impression on the upperclassmen, especially with Valley’s leading scorers.

“She’s a very smart player,” Danielson said of Mannen. “She’s very humble about her game. She looks up the court and she sees the game, which I think is a born talent. Noelle sees her posts, she sees the wings running. She’s a really unselfish player and she’s a huge asset to our team.”

Mannen’s instincts with the ball in her grasp, the way she scans the court, constantly looking for open teammates supersede any worries about her being just a freshman. She shuttles the ball into the right hands and does so delightedly.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore wing Petra Flemmer transferred over from Forest Grove during the offseason and has been a welcomed addition in the backcourt.

“I think she likes to make her teammates looks good,” McDevitt said of Mannen. “She can see the court really well, and she has really good court sense. She’s really unselfish, and she’s happy all the time. Noelle likes to have fun and I think she tries to incorporate that into her game.”

With an added emphasis on pounding the ball inside to Vinson, McDevitt and Danielson, Mannen’s willing passing and understanding how to feed the bigs in their preferred spots has been vital.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior wing Kaylynn Bush is back and ready to take the Valiants back to the top of the 4A ranks this season.

Shooting guard Petra Flemmer is a sophomore transfer from Forest Grove and another link to Valley’s past as her older sister Addie was an all-league selection last season. Flemmer, coincidentally, has taken Addie’s place at the front of Valley’s fullcourt press, plus she’s a solid three-point shooter who can lessen inside pressure.

Senior Emily McLeod transferred in from St. Mary’s Academy this season and has helped ease the loss of LaBonte to graduation as Valley’s sixth man. In Mannen, Flemmer and McLeod, the Valiants have essentially refilled the ranks and possibly improved their overall personnel. Plus, Danielson said, the new trio has taken to Valley’s ways and fallen in step with its defense-first, takeaway-dependent methods.

“We have a certain system of basketball, and they came right in and blended in immediately,” Danielson said of Valley’s newcomers. “They’re learning more. They’re asking questions, and they’re really taking into full account what the coaches are saying. This team is really coming together.”

McDevitt said that, though Valley is only playing seven or eight girls as opposed to 10 or 11 last year, it only took two games for Mannen, McLeod and Flemmer to merge with the incumbents.

“They picked up what Valley Catholic basketball is all about,” said McDevitt. “They’re super-hard workers, and they’re great teammates. They work well together and with us really well. We’ve really gelled well. They’ve stepped up and been a huge part of this team. Usually when new girls come in, it doesn’t work so well, but they’ve been awesome.”

In McDevitt’s mind, the more weapons Valley has on the floor, the better because the Valiants can deploy all sorts of schemes on Banks, Seaside and the rest of the Cowapa League.

“We’re very versatile,” said McDevitt. “I don’t think we have one main thing that we’re good at. We have a huge, broad spectrum of things we can do, and that’s what makes us successful.”

Though the Valiants are moving up to 4A, the program’s bar hasn’t been lowered by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, with the transfers’ instant impact, it’s been raised.

“Our goal is to make the top eight and then do really well,” said Danielson. “We’re playing really well together. We’re not being complacent. We’re ready for the competition. We’re ready to bring it.”

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