Matthew Ismay leads McNary in points, rebounds and assists as the Celtics are tied for the top spot in the Greater Valley Conference midway through the season. (KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary boys basketball coach Ryan Kirch knew playing in the Greater Valley Conference would be tough.

He just didn’t realize how tough.

“By far it’s the best league in the state for a number of reasons,” Kirch said. “One, there’s some very good coaching. Two, there’s some very good players. Three, there’s a lot of different styles. You’ve got a McKay team who runs the ball up and down the floor. South Salem can slow it down on you with some really good guard play. Sprague’s got a dominant post player. Forest Grove’s got great coaching. Every game is mentally draining. It makes it fun but it’s a real challenge to make sure you’ve got to be up and ready to go at all times or anybody can beat you.”

The Celtics went 6-2 in their first run through league play with their only losses coming in low scoring contests against West Salem and South Salem.

“The tempo was not in our favor,” Kirch said. “We recognize that teams might want to slow us down a little bit, which I would want to do the same thing if I was playing us. So we just have to do a better job of being able to execute in the half court and not become rushed. We get a little lost mentally and out of rhythm because things aren’t coming so easily for us. In that situation, we’ve got to be more mentally tough to get the shot we want.That’s a point of emphasis.”

McNary had a week off before it throttled North Salem 85-39 on Tuesday, Jan. 24 to begin the second half of GVC play. The Celtics play at Sprague on Friday, Jan. 27.

Kirch believes the break came at the right time.

“Our bodies are just banged up and people are just tired physically and emotionally,” he said.

“With the schedule, we really haven’t had a chance to get better ourselves. Having a week off really gives us a chance to really focus on ourselves. I think we’re aware of what we do well and our areas for improvement.”

And playing in such a strong league will benefit the Celtics at the end of the season.

“It’s an unbelievably tough year,” Kirch said. “We probably have five, maybe six of the top 20 teams in the state. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least four of our teams in the final 16.

“One of the things I think is good for us is we’re seeing lots of different styles. Hopefully, when we get to the point where we’re in the playoffs, whether you’ve got a team that wants to press or zone you, half court and slow it down, by that point we should be pretty battle tested.”

At 7-2, the Celtics are tied atop the GVC standings with West Salem. Sprague is 6-2, Forest Grove 5-3 and South Salem 5-4.

McNary senior Matthew Ismay is averaging nearly 14 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.

The Lady Celts, who are 4-3 in league play, have also face an improved GVC.

After starting 1-2 with losses to West Albany and West Salem, McNary won three in a row before falling to South Salem 58-56 on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

“There were a couple of games that I wish we could’ve taken care of that we didn’t but I knew before the year started that our league as a whole was better,” McNary head coach Derick Handley said.

“I knew there were some teams like West Albany and Forest Grove that were going to be tough.”

Since North Salem’s girls are playing a non-league schedule and a game against Beaverton was canceled, the Lady Celts have had 10 days off before they return to the court on Friday, Jan. 27 at Sprague.

Handley noted McNary was playing its best basketball of the season before the break.

“In the last four league games, we’ve been a lot more balanced,” Handley said. “I think we’re becoming more of a unit. Less than just a couple of girls and more of a team. We’re growing and learning our new roles.It’s kind of unfortunate to have 10 days in between but hopefully Friday we’ll be back where we were and ready to go.”

Senior Sydney Hunter leads McNary, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Kailey Doutt is scoring 12 points per contest.

The Lady Celts are fourth in the GVC behind South Salem (8-0), West Salem (6-2) and West Albany 5-3).

“We do have the ability and the talent that we could run the table in the second half,” Handley said. “It’s huge. The second part of league is going to be big for us.”