Jared Van Cleave looks for a shot after breaking away from defender Garren Robinett. The Celts’ first game of the season is slated for Wednesday, Dec. 1, at McNary. (Keizertimes/ERIC A. HOWALD)

Of the Keizertimes

One thing that came out of the McNary varsity basketball team’s 2-10 season last year is room for improvement.

“We weren’t as successful as we wanted to be, we lost some close games, but this year we’ve got a lot of guys that can come in and contribute,” said Matt Espinoza, McNary head coach. “We’ve got a really balanced and solid number of guys who willing to put in the effort.”

In general, Espinoza and his team think the experience of the past season will pay dividends this season.

“We lost four seniors, but we’re senior-heavy this year,” said Dalton Bodine.  “We’ve all played together for a while, so it’s going to be exciting to see what happens. We’ve got a lot of vocal guys, a lot of leaders and a lot of guys that have played varsity basketball.”

“Last year, we had a lot of young players who took advantage of the opportunity to learn,” added Celt Greg Roth. “This team is really mature and will come out better and stronger.”

The basketball season was pushed back a week by the Oregon School Activities Association and the Celts host Franklin High School Wednesday, Dec. 1, in their first game of the season.

The team’s strength on the court will be its speed, Roth said.

“We’ll be quick getting up and down the court and we’ve got some strong shooters. We’re going to try to outhustle everybody,” he said.

The players’ conditioning will be second-to-none, Bodine said.

“We’re going to be the best-conditioned team in the league by far,” he said. “Our mental toughness is going to be the biggest challenge. Strength and aggressiveness might be challenges, but I don’t think that will be as big as the mental toughness.”

While the team is slowly building confidence in the talent they’ll put in the court, they’re more cautiously optimistic about their goals for the season.

“We’ve got good people returning from last year and good players coming into varsity. We have the talent to go far, I guess we’ll see,” said Cory Bakkala.

Espinoza, in his second year as head coach, plans on applying the lessons he learned on the job last year, as well.

“We’re going to take things slower and we can’t try to do everything at once,” he said. “We’re going to start out with some basic strategies and take it wherever it will go from there. We’ll be patient and get better and master skills before we move on.”