Corvallis, Ore. -- "Honestly still sometimes I'm just in shock about how lucky I am," Oregon State redshirt freshman guard Noelle Mannen says with a near permanent smile. "To be a part of all of this and be on a team with the girls that I'm with and just even to know those people and how amazing they are. What is there to not be happy about, you know?"
But Corvallis and Oregon State women's basketball wasn't the start of her collegiate experience. It began in her senior year at Valley Catholic high school in Beaverton, where Mannen was named All-League four straight years, first team all-state and holding schools records in career points, rebounds, assists and steals. Seeking some help in the recruiting process, the 5'6 guard and her family reached out to Beaver head coach Scott Rueck.
"When I first reached out to Scott it was more for him to talk to other coaches for me," Mannen recalls.
"One of my best friends growing up is an administrator at Valley Catholic and so he reached out to me and said hey we got this senior looking for a place to play and do you have any thoughts on this, that's how I remember it anyway," says Rueck. "At the end of the conversation, I said send me some film so we can watch you, see where we feel you fit and give you some advice."
Mannen ended up enrolling at the University of San Francisco, and hoped to secure a walk on spot with Dons women's basketball. In the meantime, contact with Oregon State quieted down. But when the opportunity to play at USF never materialized, she and Rueck talked again, and he took a look at her tape. Then something unexpected happened.
"I'm watching her play and I'm like man, she's good," Rueck remembers.
"I never honestly saw this as an option, like Oregon State," says Mannen. "A few weeks later he called again and said yeah I'll talk to these coaches sort of if you want me to. But also said, we're looking for a potential walk on. Would you be interested in us considering you as a potential walk-on and I said yeah of course."
With sharpshooting senior Kat Tudor injured, Mannen filled in during the summer as an additional body to work alongside nationally recognized players like Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum. It felt somewhat strange at first, but a piece of advice from fellow Oregonian and former Beaver star Katie McWilliams gave Mannen something to look forward to: the Beavers preseason trip to Italy would be the place to find her place in the team. Between the multiple exhibition matches, trips around Florence, Naples and Rome, and downtime to be friends off the court, Mannen made fast friends with her teammates.
"The biggest part was the way she fit in," Rueck says. "From day one it had been like she'd been here for 10 years. And so just socially, she's got that smile on her face every minute. She's fun to be around, she makes the gym better and she competes and plays as hard as anybody."
"Italy was great for that sort of taking basketball out of it and just forming relationships," mentions Mannen. "But yes," she jokes. "It was very, very intimidating at first."
With the Italy trip done and the season underway, the redshirt freshman managed to find spot minutes in much of the Beavers non-conference schedule. While mostly supporting her teammates from the bench, she stepped onto the Gill Coliseum in a game for the first time against UC Irvine in November. Later that month, she scored 10 points, a career high to date, against Southern Utah, to the raucous cheers of Beaver nation. As she does in nearly every situation, Mannen headed to the huddle during a timeout with a big smile on her face.
"Perfect person, perfect time," Rueck concludes. "She was exactly what we needed. I say make the most of every opportunity and that's what she's doing."
And with that beaming smile that can light up Gill Coliseum, Noelle Mannen's winding road has led her to the place she can call home. At Oregon State, with Beaver women's basketball.