Valley Catholic ranked No. 1 early on in 4A

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic junior point guard Noelle Mannen and the Valiants are No. 1 in the 4A power rankings.

The best girls basketball programs find ways to reinvent themselves around their relevant personnel.

Teams that avoid stagnation by dictating their schemes and plots around their talent levels and roster makeups are often the ones playing at the state tournament year-in and year-out.

In the past, Valley Catholic was a fullcourt pressing, hounding, pedal-through-the floor squad that enforced its will on outmanned foes with defense and transition play — the likes of which yielded state championships, tournament appearances and league titles.

But Valley isn’t a feeder program that refills the ranks with the same sort of athletes every year. So the Valiants have forged a new identity with players who fit a different sort of bill and play a contrasting kind of style.

Gone is the 94-foot fullcourt press that wreaked havoc but could occasionally spring leaks against an opponent with capable ballhandlers and speed. In its place is a halfcourt man-to-man defense that’s still predicated on pressure, but won’t tax Valley’s rotation and will keep the Valiants fresh come the fourth quarter. And, Valley, a team that once funneled its offense through the post, now subscribes to the fashionable four-guard offense that’s taken the game by storm the past five years or so.

These are big sea changes installed by head coach John Innes and so far they’ve worked proficiently.

At 5-1, Valley is No. 1 in the Class 4A power rankings with its only loss coming at the hands of 3A powerhouse Blanchet Catholic. Buoyed by a seven-girl senior class and a junior point guard in Noelle Mannen who’s started nearly every game she’s played in a Valiant uniform, Valley sports a veteran-laden roster that’s played in a lot of big games, yet has an afresh program-wide philosophy.

“We’ve been together a really long time and we worked extremely hard this summer,” said Valley Catholic senior post Joanna Duyck. “We’ve really come together, learned our roles and played them every game. We have a ton of team chemistry and I like our energy. We all know how each other plays, so we know how to hype each other up before games. That’s helped us go far early.”

The Valiants have just two players taller than 5-foot-9: junior Petra Flemmer and senior Brenna Borton, who is 6-foot-2 but relatively new to the sport. Mannen is a playmaking point guard with flair and fine outside shooting ability.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic sophomore Callie Kawaguchi is a standout defender with speed and quickness for the Valiants.

She’s joined by comparably skilled players such as sophomore Callie Kawaguchi, senior Mady Moore, senior Kate Nguyen and senior Matti Thurman. Duyck is a seasoned, all-around forward who does the little things and dirty work on both ends of the court. She’s joined by Barton and Mary Oehler in the paint. With four guards in the lineup orbiting around one post, Valley is able to space the floor with shooters and athletes who crash the offensive glass.

“It’s definitely been a shift for us, learning how to adjust,” said Duyck. “We’ve had girls who were posts in the past who are now playing on the wing and learning how to shoot a three-point shot instead of a shot inside the key. It’s been a big transition, but like (Innes) says, we just work as hard as we can every day and we’ll be successful.”

Duyck said defense has been a big point of emphasis in practice to this point in the season. Though Valley backed off its fullcourt press in the offseason, that by no means equates to a lackadaisical approach to the defensive end of the floor. Nevertheless, by getting out and guarding man-to-man, Valley relies on ball pressure and helpside defense. And, if that doesn’t work, Innes installs a 1-3-1 zone that’s probably a bit more familiar to Valiant hoops fans.

“It’s been one of the biggest changes I’ve had so far playing basketball,” said Duyck. “It was shaky to begin with during the summer, but we got to work on it so much that I think it’s been an easy transition into this season. We’ve had our ups and downs with it. But, we’re incorporating a lot of new plays and strategies that we’re all working really hard with.”

Since joining the Cowapa League in ‘14-15, a league title has alluded Valley, who despite not grabbing the conference crown reached the state tournament twice. Banks and Seaside are the Valiants’ toughest league opponents and while Valley’s trek through the Cowapa is always arduous, it normally fortifies the Valiants for the 4A postseason.

“(Innes) said he views this season as a ladder and each game and each practice is taking another step up that ladder,” said Duyck. “So, hopefully the Cowapa League is at the top. And then we go get another ladder go up further at state. It’ll take a defensive mindset and a lot of confidence in ourselves. You do the best you can, every play. If you make a mistake, you shake it off and get it back. It’s just a matter of everyone having each other’s backs and working tirelessly on and off the court to make sure we’re all united and know our roles on the court.

“Our goal is to be the best we can be,” continued Duyck. “Every game is a new challenge for us that’s set out. We take each challenge very seriously. I’m very confident that our team will go very far this year and our coaches are as well. It’s all a matter of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and taking it one step at a time.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic wing Matti Thurman and the Valiants are after a Cowapa League championship.

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