McNary’s Drew McHugh drives to the hoop under cover from Trent VanCleave. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Drew McHugh drives to the hoop under cover from Trent VanCleave. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

It’s difficult to spin the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team’s 2012-13 season in any way that doesn’t feel like pandering.

The team finished the season with a 5-21 record and winless in the Central Valley Conference. The members of the team’s new roster are hoping, however, that memories of that season will serve as fuel for the upcoming one.

“We went through the adversity, but we came out as better friends,” said Celtic senior Hayden McCowan. “We’re going to be better all around this season.”

At the very least, the team’s starters return with another year of experience under their belts. McCowan, Connor Goff, Johnathan Doutt, Hayden Gosling and Braden Taylor will all be back this season. Unfortunately, the team’s tallest player, 6-foot-3 Devon Dunagan, broke his ankle during an open gym session and will likely be on the bench until after the team returns from winter break.

“We also have some new guys coming up in Tregg Peterson and Cole Thomas who are really going to help us out,” Doutt said.

Ryan Kirch, McNary’s head coach going into his third year with the program, said the competition within the Celtic ranks is elevating the game for all involved.

“It pushes our varsity players to improve so they keep their spots,” Kirch said. “We’ll be a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and there’s good camaraderie.”

The team’s first two games of the season will have it traveling, but the Celtics host Glencoe High School Friday, Dec. 13.

“We’re going to be coming out and expecting to win, which is a big change in attitude for us,” Kirch said. “We’re also fortunate in that our preseason schedule favors us a bit.”

It also won’t hurt that many on the team experienced more success in summer leagues, which Doutt is hoping will ease transitions to the game setting this season.

“It gave us a lot more confidence. Last year wasn’t what we wanted, but we stayed more positive this summer even when we lost some games,” he said. “We know we can finish in the top three this season, but we don’t think a league title is out of reach.”

The team is returning some hard-working shooters, McCowan said, but the focus will be on defense.

“Our offense has to be built on the defense, but we’ve got some jumpers this time around,” he said.

Defensive rebounds were a struggle for the Celtics last season and Kirch plans to make it a focus this season in hope of limiting opposing team’s to one shot.

“No matter what happens, we also have to play a full 32 minutes in every game,” he said. “We’re going to be exciting and fun to watch. These boys have put in the work to be a successful team.”

Both Doutt and McCowan felt the team has forged the bonds necessary to compete as one unit, paving the way for better outcomes.

“There’s been some big changes and people better be ready for us,” McCowan said.