Valley Catholic clobbering the Cowapa League, hoping for state title chase this season

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic midfielder Katelyn Snook takes the ball toward the net against Astoria last week.

High expectations are nothing new around the Valley Catholic girls soccer program.

In truth, after making the Class 3A or 4A state championship games in three of the past four seasons and winning two of those said titles, lofty goals are practically embraced amongst the Valiants.

Long playoff runs are the norm, Cowapa League crowns are counted upon and state title dreams have valid merit.

This year is no different.

At 8-1 overall with a big vengeful win over North Valley in the season opener and 4-1 in Cowapa, Valley is again setting its heart on high-rise hopes.

Valley returns practically every important piece off last season's 4A runner-up squad that was mere inches away from taking North Valley out in the 4A title game. Seniors such as goalie Noelle Mannen, forward Taylor Menkens and midfielder Erin Connelly, all of whom had a huge impact in the state title game last year, return along with a talented juniors class with stars such as Callie Kawaguchi and Kate McNaughton.

Last season, Valley was a young, fresh-faced squad that burst into the state championship bout and came across an atmosphere it'd never taken in before. With a huge student section and a large throng of pro-Valiant supporters in the Hillsboro Stadium stands, the vastness of the moment hindered Valley from playing up to its full potential. Menkens scored a goal early and Mannen was a thorn in North Valley's hip pocket between the posts, but ultimately, the Valiants couldn't stabilize the butterflies enough to come out on top.

Still, with experience under their belts and heap of seasoning to look to, Menkens said Valley will be a much different team this postseason.

"I think we've learned how to respond mentally," Menkens said. "Going into that game, everybody was so nervous. We never had that big of a crowd at any of our games. Coming off that state championship, we just have to learn how to reconnect our mental abilities before the game. And I think we've definitely gotten better at becoming confident and focusing on what's on the field."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior midfielder Chloe Brock runs down a ball in the open field against Astoria.

Beating North Valley extracted some vengeance, Kawaguchi said, but it was how Valley proceeded from that season-opening statement that made her most proud.

"We didn't stop there," Kawaguchi said. "Once we got that win, we weren't satisfied. We kept going and trying to win the games in front of us."

Finding an evenly matched foe has been tough in Cowapa for the fourth-ranked Valiants. Other than a 2-1 loss to perennial rival Scappoose, Valley's vanquished five of their league opponents by a combined score of 31-0, including a 7-0 bashing of Astoria on Oct. 5. Kawaguchi bagged a hat-trick in the first half and Menkens added two more goals in the first half against the Fishermen.

"Seeing the ball go in the net never gets old," Kawaguchi said with a smile. "It's a good feeling that doesn't go away."

Kawaguchi and Menkens have long been looked to for both scoring and playmaking in the final third. Both possess excellent finishing ability and the sort of intertwined chemistry that can cause sprees of scores.

"Playing together for three years now, we've started to understand our runs and worked together really well," Menkens said. "Over the years we've really developed a good connection."

To stay sharp against lesser competition, Valley's veterans have pressed the issue early, particularly in the first 40 minutes of action and played a quality possession game from there. Human nature would suggest the Valiants might sneak a peek or two at the 4A power rankings to try and project who they might play in the postseason.

The Valiants are the envy of the 4A ranks with a covetable cache of talented players who are throttling the field, yet they've remained humble and grounded.

"We can't come out and think we're best, we have to show we're the best," Menkens said. "Our focus is to get to the state championship again, but we have to take it a game at a time. Playing the simple ball and everybody working their hardest will get us far, as long as we work as a team."

Such conference routs as the Astoria affair offer the opportunity to look forward in the future, though Menkens and Kawaguchi reiterated that Valley's feet are firmly in the here-and-now.

"Of course we want to win a state championship, but we're not looking at that yet," Kawaguchi said. "We're taking every game at a time, trying to win the game in front of us. Once we get there, we'll take care of business."

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