Valiants fought tooth-and-nail with some of the best teams at the Class 4A level

PMG MEDIA PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Valley Catholic senior Trey Eberhart was a big part of the Valiant boys basketball program the past three years.

When evaluating the Valley Catholic boys' basketball team's season, wins and losses don't do the Valiants justice.

This group was rugged, hypercompetitive, fierce but considerate of one another and the greater good of the program and the school as a whole. The victories didn't appear in droves as they used to. But there was a tenacity and togetherness to this team that was perhaps even greater than years' past. The Valiants made teams feel them with physicality, jarring team defense, exuberance for shutting teams down based on effort and intensity. The great Valley state title contenders from yesteryear were showtime. This bunch was lunch pails and hard hats. They found themselves in the middle of every contest, win or lose, because of that team-wide will and mentality. On the floor, Valley was fire and brimstone. Against Woodburn, the Valiants took six charges alone. That's sacrificing one's body for the betterment of the group. Down ten points to defending state champion Banks in the fourth quarter, Valley went on an 8-0 run to nearly pull off the uset. In one game, senior post Eddie Elston became so positively incensed at the end of the bench after a Valiant takeaway that he simply stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs toward the ceiling, drawing the attention of a bewildered, but appreciative official. Then there poignant moments off the floor too. At Valley's middle school CYO night, parents came up to the Valley coaching staff and thanked them for how the Valiant varsity players treated their youngsters, how the current Valiant high schoolers expressed gratitude toward their possible one-day replacements for attending, how they engaged the younger guys in conversation unprompted.

These were ethos that head coach Patrick Chapman valued above all else: carrying, committing, competing. Valley finished the year 6-15 overall and 3-5 in league. Barring a last-minute change, the Valiants most likely won't make the Class 4A playoffs. But their core values are strong as ever. The vision for what this program can and will be moving forward is still clear as day. The culture is completely distilled and uncorrupted.

"We play hard and play for each other at Valley Catholic," Chapman said. "There were so many moments where the guys just absolutely played their tails off. There were plays where guys were willing to make the extra pass, plays where guys were diving on the floor and we end up with the ball. Those are the moments where I go 'This is why I do this'. We've got great kids who are wonderful human beings, who care about each other and know it's bigger than them. This is who we are, this is what we do."

This was a year of transition, with Joel Sobotka handing the head coaching baton off to Chapman, with Valley restocking the roster after three years of elite play, with the Cowapa League as tough as ever. Valley faced the toughest schedule in the state from wire to wire. Veterans adjusted to new roles such as Trey Eberhart moving over to point guard. Newcomers were mixed in. Primary standouts from other sports who were accustomed to breadwinner status had to accept different responsibilities on the hardwood. Star senior forward Jacob Pruitt got a late start to the season after suffering a knee injury during football. For all the seniors listed on the roster, many didn't have much varsity experience because of how stacked Valley was over the past three years. Valley had nine losses by 10 points or less. Offensively, the Valiants only put up 50 points or more four times. Scoring the ball was admittedly tough, figuring out what the best shots were and who needed to take them and from where. But no matter how disappointing the close losses were, the Valiants never quit in their quest for progression and to be the team no opponent wanted to play for 32 minutes.

"Our theme became can we become the best version of ourselves?" Chapman said. "Nobody can control how hard you play except for yourself. Teams can impact how well we play, but nobody should impact how hard you play."

Chapman was Sobotka's trusted assistant for three years and helped the Valiants continue to crush the 4A level. The duo was inseparable. If you saw one, whether it was at a practice, walking around campus, or working another Valley athletic event as part of their administrative duties, chances are the other wasn't too far away. Chapman absorbed everything he could from the seasoned, well-traveled Sobotka, soaking in lessons and methods during his formative time as an assistant. But even then, as the head man in charge for the first time coming into this year, there were unforeseen tests. Valley's extended community, especially from the parental core, is unparalleled in its unwavering support. Yet, logistically, being the coach everyone looks to, is its own entity. What's the pregame meal going to be? How does the team warm up? When are team dinners? What time should guys be in the gym before the game? Then there is helping a group of teenagers improve individually while ensuring their personal goals align with the team's. If a shooter is slumping, do you let him work through it or pull him? If a player sees himself as a scorer, but his talent is better served as a rebounder and a screener, how do you convey that as a coach without ruffling feathers? Sports, and basketball, in particular, is almost more about the Jimmies and Joes than the Xs and O's. Instilling confidence, knowing when to discipline, when to pull back, when to push, how to inspire are such fragile concepts. That's on top of trying to scout and scheme opponents in the best league in the state.

"You always think you have all the answers as an assistant," Chapman said with a smile. "And then you move that one seat over it's like 'Holy cow, I didn't even know what question I should be asking'. I joked with Banks coach (Marcus Roche) that I need a master's in sports psychologically to be a great head coach now. It's helping kids understand preparation for a game and then internalizing it themselves and helping the team win. It's understanding the psyche of a high schooler."

PMG MEDIA PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Valley Catholic junior Henry Lo is one of five underclassmen scheduled to return next season.

Defensively Valley was stout as any team at the 4A level, allowing 60 points or more just two times which placed the Valiants among the top programs in state statistically on that end of the floor. Chapman said senior James Baglai showed flashes of being the best defender in the league. The senior went toe-to-toe with Banks star Jacob Slifka and slowed forward down to a standstill.

Valley graduates six seniors including Pruitt and Eberhart who both suited up at the varsity level for three years and played a ton of minutes. The Valiants only return five underclassmen next year. The rotation is wide open for any junior varsity or even JV2 players to come in and earn a spot.

The fight Baglai, Elston, William Schultheis, and fellow senior Shireef Hussein played with will be hard to replace. But they taught the younger group what it means to work and how being kind and altruistic matters more in the long run than whether your team went on a deep playoff run or not.

"No matter what, are you becoming the best person possible because those are the habits that will carry over to success in whatever you're going to do," Chapman said. "At Valley Catholic, we're taught to love each other, to care for each other, to help each other. I'm just incredibly proud of how the guys stayed with it."

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