By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Derick Handley, the new head coach of the McNary High School girls basketball program, has many reasons to be excited this season.
It starts with him transferring to McNary from McKay High School, where he headed up the Royal Scot program. It’s the first time in two years the Lady Celts have had a coach in the building during school hours, and its prompted a larger turnout for girls basketball.
“We’re going to have three teams out there for the first time in a while. We even have enough for a freshman squad,” Handley said.
On top of that, five of the varsity players – senior Lauren Hudgins, juniors Vanessa Hayes, Kaelie Flores and Madi Hingston, and sophomore Sydney Hunter – are coming off a hugely successful volleyball season. Handley thinks the success there is going to translate to success on the basketball court.
The 6-foot-1 Hudgins took a year off last season, but Handley is planning to ease her back in as a tall post to fill the shoes of Reina Strand, who is out for the season with an injury.
“We want to go easy on her, but she’s already brought a lot of the work ethic from the volleyball season to the court,” said Handley.
Hudgins’ fellow seniors on the team are Jasmine Ernest, Emma Jones and Madie Rohl.
“Jasmine, Madi and Emma are all vocal leaders, but they also just work their tail off. They’re the kind of kids who don’t want to have any regrets and they’re pushing everybody else to have the type of season they want to go out on,” Handley said.
Like her coach, Rohl said there’s plenty of excitement to spread around.
“I’m excited to see Jasmine on defense, I’m excited to see Madi’s shot because it’s improved even more over last year and I’m happy to have Sydney back for her sophomore year. She’s tough and I think we hold her to a higher standard,” Rohl said.
Handley’s presence and ideas for the program have inspired the team to work harder all around, she added.
“We’re kind of hammering on defense in the practice. But, with a new coach and new teams in the conference, we’re all just keeping an open mind,” said Jones.
The Greater Valley Conference includes three teams new to the league this season in Forest Grove, McMinnville and West Albany high schools. The Vikings and Grizzlies arrive in the GVC having placed fourth and seventh, respectively, in the Pacific Conference last year.
Like most other sports, the Bulldogs do girls basketball well. After struggling slightly to end the season with a 17-12 record, the Lady Bulldogs went on to take fourth in the state tournament.
“They’re a good team, so everyone is going to have to raise their game,” Jones said.
While the Bulldogs are carrying a legacy in their gym bags, Rohl said the change-up is a welcome one.
“It was feeling pretty sedentary with certain teams always taking the top spots. We’re hoping the new teams will shake that up a bit,” she said.
McNary finished second in the Central Valley Conference last year with a 6-4 record behind league champs South Salem High School. The Lady Celts lost to South three times during the 2013-14 season, but Handley said the biggest change the girls could make is shutting the door on the past.
“The biggest goal is to make the playoffs and, before that, you want to win a league title. We are in the same league with South Salem and they’ve got the reputation and won league several times, but we feel top-to-bottom that we can be pretty great, too,” Handley said.
The Lady Celts host their first game of the season against South Eugene Wednesday, Dec. 3. Tip off is 7 p.m.