Several coaches have come up to Brookfield East girls basketball coach Michael Goodman this year and told him how good his team will be next year.
"Heck, I think we're going to be good this year," the soft-spoken Goodman said.
The reason for this sort of thinking is the Lady Spartans have no seniors on this season's team. Goodman has 11 juniors, 2 sophomores and a freshman to call on.
But perhaps the best of the group is 6-foot forward Molly DeValkenaere according to Goodman.
"It starts with the drive that she has," he said. "Because I've known her since seventh grade, being honest I always felt that she was pretty good. She was their best player. She's a good basketball player but she's better people. She wants it. She wants to get better. She has become more coach-able I would say.
"Her work ethic is very good. She has to work on going left better. Work on more of an all around game. When her confidence is high then her outside game is good. Her inside game kind of drives the outside."
Goodman who would like to see her work on technique along with her athletic skills.
"She's good rebounder, but sometimes she uses her athletic ability too much," he said. "I want to see her be tougher. Box out a little bit more and then go get it. She has wonderful length, she is very athletic. In the 1-3-1 she's on top. In our press (diamond and one) she's up with our press, being able to move like a guard.
"She's running hard for 10 minutes and says 'Coach I need a break.' That's perfect. You should never come out unless you need a break."
And it all starts with DeValkenaere, who has been playing with some of her teammates since her fourth-grade Jr. Spartans days.
Molly didn't have to look hard for a role model. Her mom, Andrea, was a member of the Pius XI teams which had a 92-game win streak from 1988-1991. The Lady Popes won four straight W.I.S.S.A. State Titles, and were able to beat the best teams in Wisconsin and nationally.
"She was a huge basketball player in high school, so she encouraged me to do it," Molly said. "Obviously I love sports. It's (basketball) physical. It's an individual and a team game. You can show what you got and make an extra play and give another person a shot. I like being physical down low and then hit a shot from the outside."
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree as Goodman recalled when he first saw DeValkenaere play as a seventh-grade Jr. Spartan.
"I watched them play throughout the season," he said. "They went to state and finished in the Top 16. Molly was taller, but you always put that into context.
"Kids who are taller when they are younger you want to make sure they develop their whole game. Will they be the tallest one when they are older or vice versa? Will they be guards when they get older. Can they handle the ball?
"I saw we could develop a full game with her, inside, outside and she has really come along well."
Molly is averaging 12.4 and 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in East's first 12 games (8-4).
Not having any seniors on this year's team led to an interesting answer from DeValkenaere when I asked about her goals this season.
I’m trying to be a leader and be on top of my team and help everyone be a success.”
- Molly DeValkenaere
"(One of) my personal goals was to become more of a leader because last year I was an underclassmen and still trying to fit in," she said. "I'm trying to be a leader and be on top of my team and help everyone be a success."
That answer didn't surprise Goodman.
"I told the girls at the beginning of the year 'We don't have any seniors; no one who can step in for you guys. There is no one we're looking for. This is it, right here. There a lot of girls who can do a lot of things, but we aren't the type of team where we have to get this one person involved. Molly is the closest one we have to that."
DeValkenaere has accepted her role.
"When the team is down, I want to pick them up; be loud and bring them together on the court, like on a free throw," she said. "If things went wrong I want to try and bring things back. If things aren't going their way I will be like 'Do this instead of this.' Help with little reminders.
"Leadership on the court is like the key thing. That's why you have to have a leader and have someone step up in order to play as team. You can't just have people play as individuals."
Goodman talked about way he has helped his team learn more about themselves.
"We have leadership council," he said. "We're doing a book study and get to know each other beyond the basketball court. A lot of things we have learned about each other allows me to coach them differently. Pretty much half this team has admitted they've let themselves get mentally down. You can see shoulders drop, their heads drop and Molly is one of them who admits to it.
"So we are working on staying positive and you have to take care of yourself first. She realizes she has to step up. Everyone is looking at her. She knows she can't have her shoulders drop or her eyes drop. She knows she can't let her energy drop because as soon as hers drops, so does the rest of the team."
The versatile DeValkenaere talked about her strengths on the basketball court and how she feels she can help the team.
"I feel that when I'm at the elbow, I'm a good mid-range shooter," she said, an excellent plus for a tall player. "I can get the ball and I can make the shot or take the ball to the hoop and make the strong lay-up. I feel that's one of my biggest strengths."
But Molly also enjoys getting her teammates involved, one of the reasons the Lady Spartans are off to a solid start.
"I like making the pass and helping others score and seeing the other person happy," she said.
Goodman talked about the fact that DeValkenaere is more than just a tall player.
"She is an athlete," he said. "She is more than a tall girl, who is someone you put underneath the basket and kind of hope they can protect the rim. Sometimes they are afraid to attack the rim, so they really shouldn't scare you. Molly does."
Goodman explained DeValkenaere and Cagle are athletes, which makes them a big part of the Lady Spartans' defense.
"Where we press and they're part of the press," he said. "If we switch screens and go from a post to a guard, they can handle the guards. I demand a lot from guards and posts. We worked on a different type of defense that forces them to come out to the 3-point line. There is no doubt in my mind they can do that and make it all work."
Molly, who would like to make all-conference and make it to state, feels winning conference is kind of like a two-year process.' She talked about this year's squad and everyone's roles and how they believe in each other.
"I post up on the block and I have to be able to come off the post and set a good screen, be able to roll and pop or hit a power lay-up," she said. "Lizzy and I are able to run a high-low and I'm able to get a pass down to her or she can get a pass down to me. We're both able to do that. I don't have to hope she catches. I know she will catch it. We've built a trust with each other that we'll be able to do that."
And the guards?
"Nickie Pink, Emma Ralfs and Adi Plavsic come off the ball and I'm able to kick it out to them and they're able to knock down that 3. They're our best shooters on the team.
"I feel like we're underdogs and people don't really see us coming. This is a brand-new team. People don't know who we are."
QUESTIONS FOR MOLLY DeVALKENAERE
- FAVORITE FOOD: Pizza
- FAVORITE MUSIC/GROUP: Country Music.
- FAVORITE MOVIE: Comedies.
- FAVORITE TV SHOW: New Girl on Netfix.
- FAVORITE CLASS: AP Psychology.
- FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED: Destin, FL.
- WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX? Hang out with friends, family, watch movies.
- FAVORITE SPORTS RIVALRY/ATHLETE: Brookfield Central, Divine Savior Holy Angels.
- MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS MOMENT: Making the game-winning shot vs. New Berlin West last year in 47-45 victory.
- WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE? Attend college, play basketball and be a nurse.