COURTESY PHOTO: BARBARA KERR - Valley Catholic star forward Taylor Menkens and the Valiants beat Molalla 2-1 in the Class 4A semifinals.

Goalkeeper Noelle Mannen has had a bit of a humdrum, ho hum season.

That’s not to say the junior goalkeeper isn’t a crucial part of the second-ranked Valley Catholic girls soccer team, but playing in a lineup as good as the Valiants leaves her a lot of time watching her talented teammates and waiting to be tested by opponents.

Case in point: She was only required to make a single save in each of Valley Catholic’s first two playoff victories last week. But Tuesday’s Class 4A state semifinal was a whole different experience for both Mannen and the Valiants.

No. 6 Molalla, led by dangerous and speedy senior forward Desirae DesRosiers, gave Valley Catholic all it could handle and then some, but Mannen’s acrobatics and second-half goals from Kate MacNaughton and Callie Kawaguchi helped the Valiants escape with a 2-1 victory at Valley Catholic High School.

With the win, Valley Catholic (15-3-0) earned a berth in Saturday’s championship, where they will try to exact a measure of revenge against top-ranked North Valley.

The Knights defeated the Valiants 3-1 early this season and carry a perfect 17-0-0 record into the final.

“We played them at the beginning of our schedule and didn’t play our best, but I think (tonight’s) game is going to give us some fire and motivation to really go out there and do our best to get that title,” said MacNaughton.

After an evenly played and scoreless first 40 minutes, the Valiants took the second-half kickoff and were on the scoreboard with a 1-0 lead less than 30 seconds later.

Freshman forward Parisa Sabet had a bit of open space along the right side of the Indians’ 18-yard box. Looking to set up a teammate for a scoring chance, Sabet actually mishit her crossing attempt.

But the low kick somehow eluded several Molalla defenders and found the foot of MacNaughton, who punched the slow rolling pass into the net.

“I didn’t hit it at all how I wanted to,” said a grinning Sabet. “My thought process was to aim it toward the goal and hope that someone put it in.”

While Valley Catholic’s offense did its part to get on the board, Mannen did everything but stand on her head on the opposite end of the turf.

DesRosiers’ speed was a consistent thorn in the side of the Valiants, especially in the second half when she repeatedly beat Valley Catholic’s back line to balls, which helped create a handful of scoring opportunities.

Mannen had made an aggressive save, coming off her line in the 33rd minute after a Valiants defender was knocked down inside the 18-yard box. But it was in the second half that the Indians really started pushing forward.

DesRosiers had two point-blank opportunities, but was stuffed by Mannen in the 45th and 46th minutes, before finally slipping one past to tie the match 1-1 in 48th.

“The best way we could deal with (DesRosiers) was to clear the ball before she got it,” added Valley Catholic coach Kayla Gaspardis.

“In the first half, we did an amazing job with that and she didn’t get the ball that much. (But) I told Noelle yesterday that she was going to get some action today and she was ready. She’s a gamer.”

The upstart Indians (15-2-0) continued to pressure a Valley Catholic defense that was giving up too much space, but Mannen used good positioning to help her pick up a few more saves in the 60th and 62nd minutes.

COURTESY PHOTO: BARBARA KERR - Valley Catholic forward Kate MacNaughton and the Valiants will face North Valley in the Class 4A state championship game.

“Coming into the game, coach told us and warned us that this team is definitely going to be stronger offensively than previous teams,” Mannen said.

Her heroics kept the game knotted at 1-1, and the Valiants got the goal they needed in the 65th minute.

MacNaughton broke through down the left sideline and sent a nicely placed low pass across to the far post, where Kawaguchi was wide open, collected herself and calmly tapped it in.

“I was just thinking of controlling it and keeping it on the ground,” said Kawaguchi. “A lot of times this season, I’ve had the ball come right in front and (I’ve shot it) over.”

Valley Catholic will be the underdog on Saturday, a place it’s unfamiliar with, but the Valiants know they can find a way to win if they play their best.

“We’re nervous (about North Valley), but it was in the beginning of the season when they beat us,” added Kawaguchi. “I think we’ve come a long way since then.”

An upset victory would give Valley Catholic its second state title in three seasons.

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