By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School varsity softball team had a roller coaster 2013 season.
After a blistering start that had the team in second place in the Central Valley Conference, the team hit a losing skid that dropped them to fourth. They peaked again at the end of the season to make it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, but the 4-3 loss that ousted them from the tournament still stings.
“For all of us, the last game was a heartbreaker. It was good that we got so far despite being young, but it lingered over us. We want to erase that and go farther,” said Kevin Wise, McNary head coach in his second year as the program’s leading man.
The varsity roster will include a number of new faces, but Wise felt the team was stronger in almost all areas.
“From one to nine, I think we’re stronger on offense than we were last year,” he said. “We had to move some people around to fill in the gaps our seniors left, but I think it might even make us stronger defensively.”
The program graduated two players last June, Jordyn Hanson on the mound and Paige Bouska at shortstop. Megan Ulrey, who’s seen a fair amount of time pitching since her freshman year, will step into the circle. Madison Oliver will be her relief. Kimi Ito will take over Bouska’s role at shortstop.
“In the short term, we still have some players who are learning their positions. Looking further ahead, we just need to be more consistent than last year,” Wise said.
The Lady Celts will field only two seniors again this season, Dani Saunders and Sarah Jensen.
Saunders, who plays third base, said last year’s team was able to make its comeback with an attitude of “calm ferocity,” and she thinks this year won’t be much different.
“We have certain rituals that we did last year, and we’ll be introducing them to the new people. We just have to focus on what we need to do,” Saunders said.
Junior slugger and catcher Kiana Villareal said she’ll be passing along the advice she got as a freshman.
“They always told me to outplay the other person in the same position on the other team. That helped me a lot when I was still figuring it out,” she said.
One of Wise’s goals for the team this season is leaving fewer runners on base, a problem led to the Lady Celts’ midseason slump last year.
“We’ve got to be consistent and fight back. We have to push a little harder when we get into those situations,” Wise said.
The girls’ first home game of the season, vs. Roseburg High School, is Thursday, March 20.