McNary High School seniors Hailey Decker and Deven Hunter sign letters of commitment to play for the University of Nebraska and Oregon State University, respectively. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Next year, two Lady Celt athletes will be playing for different mascots.

McNary High School’s Hailey Decker and Deven Hunter signed letters of commitment to play with University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Oregon State University Beavers, respectively.

The signings took place in a special ceremony before school Wednesday, Nov. 9. Decker will play softball for the Cornhuskers and Hunter will play basketball for the Beavers, but both have been multisport athletes in high school.

Decker’s path to Nebraska – whether or not she realized it then – began when she was in the sixth grade. That’s when Nebraska Head Coach Rhonda Revelle first heard her name.

Revelle, herself a native Oregonian and graduate of North Eugene High School, was contacted by Jerry Howard, the Volcanoes marketing manager, and told her that she should be looking at the daughter of the Volcanoes then-coach Steve Decker. Howard and Revelle’s father had been good friends.

“I kind of giggled because she was so young, but a few years later I started hearing her name in softball circles,” Revelle said. “It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots. Her athleticism and her competitiveness and the combination of power and speed and the drive to be the best she can be makes her a very exciting prospect for us.”

For her part, Decker had to be forced by her parents to make the visit to Nebraska. In the wide spectrum of lifestyle options spanning the 50 states, Nebraska is rarely a top pick. Happily, all of Decker’s preconceived notions were quickly vaporized.

“The people, the coaches, the facilities were all above and beyond the other places I visited,” she said.

Decker’s McNary coach, Jeff Auvinen, lauded her efforts through four years as a varsity starter, “It’s kind of rare for a freshman to step in and have the kind of impact she’s had, but she didn’t just rest on that. Each year she’s gotten better and better and better.”

Revelle said Decker is one of a promising class of recruits that will help them improve on their 21st place finish in the NCAA polls last season.

Since professional softball leagues don’t get the spotlight they might deserve, Decker said she’s happy to be able to play at one of the sport’s highest levels, “It’s all excitement. I’m going to miss my family like crazy, but I’ve had two years to prepare and I’m ready.”

For Hunter, the appeal of college-level basketball came down to a single thing.

“Getting to be on TV,” she said. “I’m kind of nervous for the whole thing, but you have to kind of be prepared for anything.”

She visited University of Arizona, Washington State University, Arizona State University and Kansas State University in addition to OSU, but it was the Beavers who stole her heart.

“I really liked the coaches and they made it feel like it would  be fun to be there. It’s also close to home, so family will be able to come and be in the crowd at games,” she said.

Hunter joins a Beaver program that’s struggled in recent seasons, but McNary basketball coach Molly Gehley advised attendees at the signing to start buying season tickets with the addition of Hunter to the roster.

“Deven was a top priority from our first day on the job,” said OSU Head Coach Scott Rueck in a press release. “She is a phenomenal athlete and a big-time competitor. She’s a power forward who has the ability to score with her back to the basket as well as step out and shoot from beyond the three-point line. With her ability, her toughness and her determination, Deven will be an outstanding player on both ends of the floor in our system.”

Gehley said Hunter’s work ethic over the past four seasons is what made her a sought-after player, “It wasn’t great when she was a freshman, but she’s grown to be a leader on and off the court with an excellent academic record.”

Hunter averaged 18 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last season and earned All-Central Valley Conference First Team honors.