Wyatt Grine makes a move around coach Cameron McCormick. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Wyatt Grine makes a move around coach Cameron McCormick. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Last year, the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team turned a corner. Even though the team endured its fair share of strife in the win-loss column, it was always fun to watch.

While it has Head Coach Ryan Kirch’s hopes high for the coming season, he said it’s going to require a different type of commitment from the Celtics.

“We’ve talked a lot about winning league titles and that, but the big step is how committed are we to improving our fundamentals. If we want to play the big teams in the state, we have to be committed to doing all the little things right to make it happen,” he said.

McNary finished third in the Central Valley Conference last season, but the lay of the land is quite a bit different this time around with three teams – Forest Grove, McMinnville and West Albany high schools – added to the new Greater Valley Conference.

“The depth of talent in the league gets stronger and all three teams have had some success and that will push everyone to do better,” Kirch said. “We also play our first league game before the winter break which means we have to maximize our time in practice.”

Last season, McMinnville made it to the second round of the playoffs before being ousted, Forest Grove lost in the first round. West Albany split the league title in the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference before ending the season with a third place finish in the state tournament.

While the external pressure is rising, it’s also on the upswing within the Celtic program. McNary has a number of underclassmen with great height and abilities, but the big “get” for the program was luring 6-foot-6 Harry Cavell back to the Keizer team after playing for West Salem High School.

“The competitiveness within the program is intense and we’ve got some real versatile players, which allows us as a coaching staff to do different things,” Kirch said.

Returning seniors include Devon Dunagan, Tregg Peterson, Connor Goff, Drew McHugh and Cole Thomas and Kirch has been impressed with the leadership coming from all five young men.

In early practices, Peterson said the team has focused on explosive play.

“It helps a lot on defense for lots of reasons, but on offense it will mean we can get most of our points in transitions without having to run plays,” he said.

Many of the returners also have the advantage of having played together in a summer league that allowed them to hit the court without the lag that comes with getting to know each other.

“I’ve been playing with these same people for a long time and I feel like we’re all fully-developed now. It’s our chance to bring it all together,” Dunagan said.

For the first time in a while, the Celts will field a team with the majority of starters rising above the 6-foot mark in terms of height, but Dunagan said the diversity of talent is also a big advantage.

“We’re not the tallest team yet, but we have a lot of good shooters, several players who can post up and there’s a lot of ball security,” Dunagan said.

Peterson was anticipating the first games of the season as a chance to see if the rubber meets the road.

“While we have played together, there’s nothing like a big varsity game to help you build trust and chemistry,” Peterson said.

On the court success is one thing, but the boys varsity team finished first in 6A team GPA ratings last year as well. Kirch said holding onto that legacy is just as important as wins on the court.

The team’s first home stand will be Saturday, Dec. 6, at McNary. Game time is 4 p.m.