TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic junior point guard Joey Braun had a breakout season last year and has helped the Valiants get out to a solid 3-1 start in non-league action.

By year’s end, the Valley Catholic boys basketball team will look a lot different than it does now, and that’s exactly what head coach Joel Sobotka wants.

Sure, Sobotka wants the Valiants to play well and win during their tough non-league slate. Winning instills confidence that can pay dividends down the road. But Sobotka doesn’t want to sacrifice lasting improvement just to win. The final product that Valley puts on the floor later in the year and reaching the Class 4A state tournament a year after falling a game short are what matter most to the Valiants.

“We’re a good basketball team, but we’re going to be better as the year goes on,” said Sobotka. “Our goal is to play our best basketball by the end of the year. It’s going to be a process to continue to improve and get better and grow.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Avery Jones was a big boost with his rebounding and athleticism last year after transferring from Sherwood. Jones is back and a part of Valleys large rotation.

Sobotka, a former University of Portland assistant, has never been one to rely on a rigid, set-in-stone system. He takes the personnel he’s given, finds out what that group does best and caters to its strengths. If the Valiants are tall, athletic and gifted like Valley’s 2013-14 squad, Sobotka lets them pressure defensively and get out in transition. If the squad features jack-of-all-trade players that are versatile and adjustable like the 2014-15 team, Sobotka will mix up his offenses and defenses to keep foes on their toes. There are always “constants and absolutes,” such as unselfish offense and effort-filled defense that Sobotka harps on daily, but the head coach prefers to maximize his team’s top attributes.

“It’s important to play with what you have,” said Sobotka. “We’ve even tried to simplify a few things early, just to get good at a few things.”

Seniors Colin Haggerty and Vijay Parthasarathy both saw extensive action last year, but were held out of the Valiants’ first four games due to injuries. Haggerty returned to the floor on Friday against Marshfield and Parthasarathy is supposed to come back in the next week or so. Haggerty, Parthasarathy and senior point guard Shankar Krishnakumar are the last remaining Valiants from the 2013 state title team and bring a wealth of experience to the floor. Sophomore Ben Robbins and senior Avery Jones had moments of brilliance last year on both ends of the floor while playing post, and junior point guard Joey Braun is one of Valley’s better two-way players and top scorers.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic's Colin Haggerty is one of three 6-foot-5 or taller posts who give the Valiants a huge size advantage inside.

“I think we could play 11 or 12 guys without any dropoff,” said Sobotka. “Any guy on this team can have a big night. They have to be ready to go because we have a lot of people that we can run in there.”

Sobotka said he likes the addition of guards Daniel Hardy (who played junior varsity last year) and sophomore Andrew Plambeck (a transfer from Lincoln).

Junior Vlad Katin is 6-foot-9 and sophomore Jack Grasberger is 6-foot-5, giving Sobotka three big posts (along with Robbins) to deploy down low. Valley will still get out on the fast break, but if nothing is available, the Valiants can dump the ball into one of their big posts.

“It’ll be more of a balance (on offense),” said Sobotka. “We want to take advantage of what’s working or where we have a mismatch. For me as a coach, I’m trying to figure out roles and lineups that work well together. Maybe a guy plays better starting or when he comes off the bench. Some lineups work better big or small.”

Sobotka said he likes Valley’s size and depth, and more importantly, its potential. With just 13 practices to prepare for a grueling non-league schedule chock full of state tourney contenders, Sobotka said he’s excited about the Valiants’ growth. Every year, Sobotka said, the goal is to win the Cowapa League and make it to the state tourney — though that will be challenging considering the number of quality teams in the league. Four of the Cowapa’s squads reached at least the second round of the 4A playoffs last year.

Seaside returns most of its state-tourney team and Banks has started the year undefeated. Valley’s long-term aspirations will fall into place once the progress begins.

“If you’re playing your best at the end of the year, that stuff tends to take care of itself,” said Sobotka. “We have to take care of the basketball and understand what it means to play team defense. We want to attack, but we want to attack in a smart way. That’s where the biggest improvement will come.”

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