It’s not just the league title chase, last year’s thrilling Division II district championship game, or this Thursday’s showdown that gets Norwalk girls basketball coach Brock Manlet fired up for Bellevue.
It’s also home.
Manlet, a 2000 BHS graduate, was also an assistant for three years under former Lady Red girls coach Ryan Orshoski. The Norwalk coach recently won his 100th game as coach at the school on Feb. 8 while nearing the end of his seventh season.
But a win Thursday at Bellevue? It’s hard to even think about — and not just because it would bring a league title to Norwalk for the first time in program history.
“There is definitely a different feeling to it every time we play, and it’s hard to keep those emotions out of it,” Manlet said. “Obviously I lived there, went to school there and coached there for a long time. But these kids don’t even remember when I was there.”
Two seasons ago, Norwalk lost a key home game late in the season to the Lady Red, where it let a fourth quarter lead slip away. The game was one that ultimately cost the Truckers a Northern Ohio League title.
Last season, Norwalk rallied for a 34-32 win in the district title game, giving the program its first-ever appearance in the regional semifinals (Sweet 16). Prior to last season, the Truckers had never won a district game.
On top of Thursday’s chance at a league title, Norwalk (18-3, 10-1) and Bellevue (20-1, 11-0) are again the top two seeds in the Galion district — meaning a third meeting could potentially take place again for a spot in the regionals.
“The atmosphere and the tension when we play — you can feel it,” Manlet said. “As much as I say I don’t get amped up every time we play them, that’s probably a lie. They’ve been the standard in our league for almost a decade. And we want to get there.
“We think we’re there, but in order to put ourselves in that discussion we’re going to have to beat them and get a share of a league title,” he added. “To be the best you have to beat the best — and right now that’s Bellevue.”
Manlet’s deep connections to Bellevue also doesn’t make it any easier on Lady Red coach Kory Santoro — also a Bellevue lifer himself.
“I’ve known Brock, his older brother Josh and his family forever,” Santoro said. “He coached here obviously, and his JV coach, Jen Swartz, is also from Bellevue and actually played with my sister in high school.
“And Chris Harkness is someone who is a good friend of mine that I’ve played basketball with and against,” he added. “But Brock has really done a great job of changing the culture over there. It’s a good staff, and we get along really well — but come game time, we get after it.”
Manlet had already been the all-time wins leader in coaching at Norwalk for quite some time. Prior to taking over in the 2011-12 season, the school had just three winning seasons in 37 years.
A lot has certainly changed. In the last three years alone, Norwalk is 56-15 overall entering Thursday’s game.
“When I took the job, we talked about it being a five-year plan,” Manlet said. “We wanted to be really competitive in five years, and it’s kind of gone quicker than that. We’ve been very blessed to have a lot of great athletes who were willing to buy into what we were trying to sell.”
Manlet said the key part over the last three seasons is the current group of girls have no memory of the three- or four-win seasons that used to be commonplace.
“This is all they know,” he said. “That mentality is kind of gone, and they are used to winning. I think that helped us this year in some of our closer games. They were able to draw back on past positive experiences and pull those games out.
“But we’re just very blessed they all bought in, and the success we’ve experienced is because they were willing to do that,” Manlet added.