Noelle Mannen just wanted to keep playing basketball.

A first-team 4A all-state player her senior season at Valley Catholic in 2018, Mannen had been in talks with the coaching staff at the University of San Francisco about a possible walk-on position with the Dons last year.

When Mannen arrived on campus, she reached out about when tryouts might be and the coaches stopped responding.

With the passion to continue playing still there despite the setback, Mannen reached out to Oregon State coach Scott Rueck on the advice of her former track coach at Valley Catholic, Dale French. French and Rueck are friends and Rueck told French to have Mannen reach out any time for help if she wanted it.

Mannen sent Rueck a message and asked if he might help her talk with other coaches that might be interested in her. She provided some film and waited.

After Rueck was able to analyze her skillset, he got back in touch with Mannen and offered his thoughts on her potential, strengths and weaknesses.

Then he dropped a bit of a bombshell — would Mannen be interested in considering a possible walk-on spot with the Beavers?

“I said of course. Yes please,” she recalled last week. “A couple weeks later he called and said, 'we looked at all of our options and we think you would be a good fit for this spot.'”

A few weeks later she went through a workout and made it official. Just like that, Mannen, a 5-foot-6 guard, was going to be a member of a program that has aspirations of making the Final Four this season and the seasons to come.

“All I knew was I loved the program and I would be lucky to be a part of the program,” she said.

Rueck said Mannen’s skillset has been a little better than he and the coaching staff may have thought at first.

“But the way she competes is high level,” he said. “I’ve asked a lot from her and she has delivered. She’s been just a joy for us.”

Mannen admitted the first few times she stepped on the practice court with her new teammates was a bit intimidating. While she is a little more comfortable now, it’s still a bit daunting at times. Still, her confidence is growing each day, she said.

Maybe Mannen’s defining moment came in August when the Beavers were preparing for their trip to Italy. Rueck wanted to put Destiny Slocum and Aleah Goodman, the team’s two point guards, on the same team.

That meant Mannen would play the point on the other.

“So she’s playing against Destiny and held her own, didn’t turn it over and ran her team as if she’d been playing the one the whole time,” Rueck said.

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Slocum, and her other teammates, were impressed.

“That shows some courage because it’s not the easiest thing to be like all right I’m going to run the one and I have only done it probably only one time,” Slocum said. “After that practice everyone was spotlighting her and making sure that she understood what she was doing was something that was super rare.”

It was quite the moment for Mannen.

“That was a little scary,” she said. “That’s one thing I really want to get more comfortable with are all the play and obviously the system (Rueck) runs. That day I asked a lot of questions for sure. I did not know what I was doing but that was a fun opportunity for sure. Hopefully I will have more chances in the future.”

Mannen's work in practice has been vital with Kat Tudor still recovering from a torn ACL. She said she brings a “fresh” perspective to the team.

“I’m in a position where I don’t really have anything to lose,” she said. “I’m not in trouble of losing a starting spot or any playing time even. I think it’s good I just get to go out there and play. My goal is that I can make all of them as good as I can, see how well I can push my teammates in practice.”

Slocum said Mannen has pushed her and has been able to one-up her the two have been paired together in drills.

“She beat me in every three-point shooting contest but by one every time,” Slocum said with a smile. “That was the moment I was like OK, she can play, she can hold her own. She’s been in practice just dominating and holding her own and it’s been awesome.”

Mannen feels right at home with the Beavers and credits her teammates for welcoming her from the start and helping her get around.

“They have done a super great job on and off the court making me feel like this is the right place,” she said.

While Mannen has no real expectations for playing time, she couldn’t be happier with her decision to call Oregon State her new home.

“I think there’s no better place where I’m going to have better coaches or better players to learn from,” she said. “No matter what, I think this is one of the places where I will get to be the best basketball player I can be. I have no idea what playing time or anything what that’s going to be like. Like Scott told me coming into it, don’t have any expectations because you don’t know what’s going to happen or anything.”

No matter what happens, Mannen has already proved her worth.

“I don’t know if she realizes now but she came in and her head was screwed on straight and she did her thing,” Slocum said. “I can’t wait to see it pay off.”

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald