KEOSAUQUA – There are several superlatives that could describe the play of Isabel Manning.

Van Buren County head girls basketball coach Matt Zeitler doesn't need several superlatives. He can sum up the play of the Warrior senior in four words. 

"She's the real deal."

After seven games this season, Manning has not only led the Warriors to an impressive 5-2 record, but is heading into 2021 as the season's top scorer in the state. The Van Buren County senior has set or matched her career high in scoring in each of the past four games, highlighted by Manning's first 40-point effort in the final game of 2020 leading VBC to a 60-29 Southeast Iowa Superconference south division win over the Comets on Dec. 18.

It may be just a sign of things to come as Manning heads into the final two months of what to this point has been a first-team all-state season. With 233 total points and a 33.3-point-per-game average, Manning is outpacing every high school girls basketball player in Iowa.

"You could try and put two or three players on her, but you can't because you won't get the opportunity," Zeitler said. "She can beat everybody from her own teammates to the other team back down the other end of the court. You almost have to spot Isabel her points.

"I don't know what else to exactly say. It's like watching college basketball. There are some things that just aren't set. That's all Isabel doing what she does. She's got the green light every time she touches the basketball."

Zeitler's daughter, second-year Cardinal head girls basketball coach Makenzie Ostrander, has seen the development of Manning's game first hand. Before taking over Cardinal's program, Ostrander was an assistant coach with her father teaching the same skills she had developed both as an all-state player at Van Buren and in college at Mount Mercy University.

"We were actually kind of giggling before the game," Ostrander said after Manning's 40-point effort against Cardinal on Dec. 18. "Nine years to the day, there's a picture that was taken of Isabel in my uniform. She got to sit on the bench during my senior year (at Van Buren County) and wear my uniform. Now, she's wearing the No. 24 and is going to have all the same opportunities. She's going to get the chance to play college basketball. She should start her freshman year. She's the kid you want out there. She's just a phenomenal player.

Manning's future plans on the hardwood will be to play at Clarke University, a future that was inked officially earlier this month. Learning from coaches like Ostrander have helped Manning not only develop the skills necessary to adjust quickly next season at Clarke, but so far to be an unstoppable force against the teams that have faced off with the Warriors.

"This year, trying to create more things to open up different people has helped me try more moves," Manning said. "I honestly wouldn't have believed we'd be getting off to this type of start.

That start, 5-2 with a 5-1 record in the tough SEISC south, is on par for a team that has won 76 games in the previous four seasons, including 42 wins in 49 games in the two years heading into this season. In her first three years, Manning has been right at the heart of helping Van Buren County accumulate a 59-14 record starting all 24 games as a freshman while finishing second on the team in scoring (269 points), assists (80) and collected a team-leading 77 steals.

Manning has finished second in total points over the past three seasons for the Warriors only to Taryn Scheuermann, who has gone on to play for the Northern Iowa Panthers this season after leading Van Buren County to consecutive regional finals each of the past two years. Last season was a career year for Manning, who rebounded after battling the flu midseason to average a career-best 16.9 points and eight rebounds a game.

This season, Manning has more than doubled her scoring pace reaching the 1,000-point plateau in just the third game of this season. Heading out of the holiday break, Manning has made 76 career starts and played in 77 out of a possible 80 varsity games for Van Buren County, missing just three games and one start due to the aforementioned midseason flu last winter, with 1,173 career points (15.2 ppg), 222 career assists (2.9 apg), 232 career steals (3.01 spg) , 603 career rebounds (7.8 rpg) and 28 total blocks.

More importantly to Manning, the Warriors have now won 64 out of 80 games during her four years, a winning percentage of exactly 80 percent. This season, with 80 percent of the starting lineup completely new, Van Buren County has still won over 71 percent of their games with the hopes of continuing on the recent tradition of success as Manning looks to finish her fourth and final year with the Warriors in style.

"I honestly wouldn't have believed we'd be standing here right now at 5-2," Manning said. "Matt told us at the beginning of the year that this would be a totally new team to the one we had last year. It doesn't mean we're not as good, we're just a new team that has had to adapt to each other. I think we're growing together and learning to work well together.

"We're going to keep working on our stuff over the holiday break. We've got West Burlington (ninth ranked in Class 3A) and WACO coming up. I feel like we have a chance to accomplish some special things this year."

With the performance so far of his senior leader, Zeitler would agree that the best may be yet to come for Manning and the Warriors heading into 2021.

"Eventually, I think, someone is going to slow Isabel down. When that happens, I think these kids will be more prepared to respond," Zeitler said. "I see more confidence in our kids all the time. I have no complaints with where we are. I thought every game would be a battle to win. Isabel is scoring a lot of points, but she's getting a lot of those points because of the rest of our kids.

"It's been a great first half of the year. Hopefully, we can keep playing and find out what's to come in the second half of the year."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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