McNary senior Jaylene Montano, with ball, and junior Paige Downer will be two key players for the Lady Celts. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

McNary senior Jaylene Montano, with ball, and junior Paige Downer will be two key players for the Lady Celts. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary’s girls basketball team won a school record 23 games and finished fourth in the state last year but it was what they didn’t do that was on the minds of the Lady Celts two returning starters as practice began for the upcoming season.

“Our goal this year is to finally win league,” senior Sydney Hunter said. “I think that’s our No. 1 goal.”

In order to do that, McNary will have to dethrone two-time state champion South Salem, led by one of the best players in the country, Evina Westbrook, who has signed with the University of Tennessee.

McNary junior Kailey Doutt, who was voted defensive player of the year by the Greater Valley Conference coaches last season, looks forward to seeing the Lady Saxons on the court.

“I’m really excited for that game,” Doutt said. “I love guarding her (Westbrook). It’s a challenge. She’s the No. 1 player in the nation. It always makes me better.”

The Lady Celts graduated three of its top four scorers from a year ago, including leading scorer and captain Madi Hingston.

But head coach Derick Handley believes McNary has the pieces to make up for those losses.

“We had a lot of girls who can score but it wasn’t their role last year,” Handley said. “It is going to be a little bit of an adjustment for some of them just getting used to being relied on for scoring but I still feel like we have a lot of girls capable of double digits.

“Kailey Doutt is going to surprise a lot of people. At the state tournament, (she) was one of the best players there. She’s a junior but this is her third year for varsity. She was nine points a game last year. She was a contributor, just known for her defense but she’s a girl who could easily be 14-15 a game this year.”

Doutt knows she’ll need to score more.

“Handley last year always told me to shoot more and my parents and my teammates because I would get nervous to shoot from the outside but I feel like I’ll have more confidence and shoot from the outside (this season),” Doutt said. “When I was younger, I was a scorer. I’m excited.”

Doutt and Hunter, who averaged 10.8 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals per game last season, will be counted on to be leaders.

“Last year I was a captain but I still depended on our other captain, Madi,” Hunter said. “Now that she’s gone, I have to step up even more to be that No. 1 leader.”

Senior Jaylene Montano, who replaces Hingston at point guard, has already shown a knack for hitting  big shots.

Playing in the Nike Interstate Shootout last December, she made a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to knock off Skyview 57-56.

“They’re (Montano and Hingston) not the same player as far as scoring goes but being able to control the game, the tempo, Jaylene is really good at that,” Handley said.

Handley mainly played seven girls last season but expects the Lady Celts to be deeper this year.

As many as 10 girls could be in the rotation.

One of those is Paige Downer, a junior guard in her third year playing varsity.

“She had a really good summer, did a lot of workouts, improved a lot,” Handley said. “She’s a girl that we’re expecting a lot of points from. She’s also one of our best defenders.”

Another is senior Gabby Schmidt, who didn’t play much varsity last year but will be counted on at post this season.

“We’re smaller than we were a year ago but she’s the one girl that is going to be able to hold down that post position for us,” Handley said. “We need her to rebound and we need her to play defense and she takes pride in both of those. She’s a girl that we’ll definitely need, to have the same success.”

Kelsey Koenig, another senior, will also get minutes in the front court.

“She’s an effort kid,” Handley said. “She just works her tail off. She is going to go 100 percent all of the time. She doesn’t take any plays off. She’s going to be really important for us this year, too.”

Three underclassmen will also be counted on—sophomore guards Abbie Hawley and Anita Lao, and forward Caiya Ewert, a volleyball player who played basketball for the first time last year as a freshman.

“She’s a phenomenal athlete,” Handley said of Ewert. “For us it’s trying to get her caught up as far as basketball skills go. Her natural instincts are really good. She doesn’t have those bad habits so she’s picked it up really quick. She’s going to get minutes and definitely play at the varsity level.”

Handley said Hawley, who he compares to Doutt, and Lao, the fastest kids he’s ever coached, will both be key to McNary’s aggressive defense.

“We’re going to try to be more aggressive, more full court stuff,” Handley said. “We were a good defensive team last year. This year we should be better. We have nine girls who are all incredibly athletic and quick, all love to play defense. We have the potential to be one of the best defensive teams in the state.”

Handley also expects the GVC to be deeper this season with South Salem and West Salem being the toughest competition. He suspects Forest Grove will surprise teams as well.

“It’s a different look,” he said. “It used to be where there were a couple of games you just kind of assumed you’d get some wins. It’s not going to be the case this year. I think every game is going to be a battle. Everybody is a lot better than they have been in years past.”

McNary opens the season on Thursday, Dec. 1 at home against Barlow.