Lady Celt Reina Strand looks for an open teammate while trying to escape the corner of the court in the Southridge game Friday, Jan. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Lady Celt Reina Strand looks for an open teammate while trying to escape the corner of the court in the Southridge game Friday, Jan. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The road did not treat McNary High School’s girls varsity basketball team kindly during winter break.

The Lady Celts notched only one win in four games before returning home Friday, Jan. 3, for a stand against Southridge High School. Southridge doled the team another loss and the losing skid extended to five games the following day with Canby High School.

“It’s been frustrating, and a bit confusing,” said McNary sophomore Kaelie Flores. “We’re not sure why we’re not winning the games we should be winning.”

To their credit, the Lady Celts haven’t suffered a blow out, but Head Coach Paul Pickerell felt the team hasn’t been able to break its opponents’ full court presses.

“It’s come down to handling that pressure and the girls owning their space on the court physically and mentally,” Pickerell said.

McNary’s last win came Dec. 27 in the first round of the Nike Interstate Shootout at Lake Oswego High School. The Celts held off Kingsmen for a 70-65 win.

Three losses to Tualatin (42-36), Grant (63-58) and South Eugene (59-47) high schools ousted the Keizer team from competition.

“A lot of those teams had a strong press and we couldn’t break them, but I also thought it was a matter of small communication things that we can fix,” said Reina Strand, a Celtic sophomore.

To combat teams with a strong on-court presence, Pickerell and his assistant coaches have been experimenting with new roles for various players. It’s been a difficult adjustment for some.

“It can be hard for some to accept that a new position might help them succeed better, but they’re adapting to the changes,” Pickerell said.

The Celts’ home stand with Southridge highlighted some of the team’s recent struggles. After fighting mightily for every point, McNary went into the half nursing a small lead, but a disastrous fourth quarter led to a 59-49 loss.

“We played pretty well defensively through the third quarter and then they started slipping away from us and scored 24 points in the fourth quarter,” Pickerell said. “Untimely turnovers kept leading to direct points for Southridge and the whole game snowballed.”

The game with Canby on Jan. 4, a 56-45 loss for McNary, helped restore some of the team’s confidence on defense even if it didn’t change the outcome, Strand said.

“The reason we competed so well is that we shut them down on defense a few times,” Strand said.

Canby was hovering near the Top 10 in OSAA rankings at press time.

Changing the team’s fortunes in the near-term is likely to come down to attitude adjustments as much as honing skills, Flores said.

“We have to want it mentally and show up prepared,” she said. “Our defense has been really good. It’s the offense that isn’t going as well as we know it could.”

The Lady Celts have games on tap with West Albany, Woodburn and North Medford high schools before the beginning of Central Valley Conference play. With the road not getting much easier, Pickerell said it’s time for the girls to seize the moment.

“Our plan is to go 3-0 and get the momentum swinging in our direction,” he said.