Cody Norman knew Courtney Range was a special player.
Her name and game are posted all over the Internet. There are YouTube clips, scouting reports and profiles and headlines galore.
What Norman didn’t know was how the St. Mary’s transfer would gel with her new teammates; how she would adjust to the level of competition; or how hard she’d be willing to work.
Range was already a bona fide Division I talent when she arrived at Manteca High by way of the private school power in Stockton.
More to the point, she is as physically gifted a player as the Valley Oak League has ever seen – a 6-foot-2 wing with the ability to run with guards and play with forwards.
But Norman wondered what kind of motor the Cal-bound forward possessed, especially with her future already set?
The Bulletin’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year answered that question in her first two minutes in a Buffalo uniform.
After sitting out 35 days per a Sac-Joaquin Section transfer rule, Range came off the bench in her first game – a home test against Lathrop.
She made an immediate impact at both ends, swatting two shots, grabbing three rebounds and scoring four points in her first two minutes.
Oh, she had an assist, too.
“There had been a lot of questions coming in,” said Norman, Manteca’s first-year head coach. “Those first two minutes will always stick with me.”
Range turned her senior year – and her only year in the Valley Oak League – into a nightly highlight reel.
She averaged 20.1 points, 19.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists, and had six games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds.
She was the VOL’s MVP.
“It was for the best,” she said of leaving St. Mary’s. “It was a decision I had to make; that my family had to make.”
The move meant Range wouldn’t face as many top-tier teams or players that have become a staple of the Rams’ schedule over the years, but her senior year was no cake walk, either. She was tested as a leader; as someone who could pull a team together and across the finish line.
“One of the challenges was transitioning and learning to adjust to the different playing levels, while also keeping your composure,” Range said. “I think I learned how to be a better player; learned how to be a better leader.”
Norman has coached Division I talent before – the 6-9 Joey Kirchofer (Stanford) and 6-5 Roburt Sallie (Memphis) at Laguna Creek – but no one that possessed the type of all-around game that Range has.
At 6-foot-2, she can play every position on the floor effectively. She anchored the Buffaloes’ press, patrolled the paint and often led their fast-break offense. She was accurate from beyond the 3-point line and able to create her own shot.
“I had a kid when I was at Laguna Creek that did a lot of the things that Courtney can,” Norman said, “he just wasn’t as aggressive as Courtney. She is my first player to have it on both ends, where she is fully dominant. That’s not something every coach is able to get.”
Norman counts himself fortunate.
His first season at the helm produced the program’s third straight VOL championship. The Buffaloes (21-7) went 14-0 and advanced to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Manteca was eliminated by Vanden, 59-48.
“I wanted to help them get further,” Range said. “I wish we would have won sections. That would have been good for the program.”
Manteca probably had the talent to defend its title without Range, but she was instrumental in its closest games.
She averaged 23.5 points, 20.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocked shots and 2.5 steals in a season sweep of runnerup Weston Ranch, two games decided by eight points or less.
In a 48-47 victory over Kimball, Range went for 26 points, 25 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“When people look back on this team or this stretch we’ve had, Courtney’s name will be a part of that,” Norman said. “I have a lot of confidence in our program that had Courtney not come along we would have made a strong push.
“But she definitely helped seal that (14-0 mark) for us, especially in our tougher games against Weston Ranch and Kimball. She was a deciding factor.”