There was no shortage of great sports stories in 2019. From multiple league championships to olympic hopefuls, here are the top 10 Keizer sports stories from the past year.

McNary claims second straight league title

Most coaches would be pretty distraught with a 0-5 start.

But even after the McNary football team dropped their fifth straight contest against South Medford on Friday, Oct. 4, head coach Jeff Auvinen wasn’t dismayed in the slightest, saying that this season felt “eerily similar to last season” — when the Celtics rallied to win all four league games in route to a Mountain Valley Conference title, despite losing their first five games of the year.

When the regular season came to an end on Friday, Nov. 1, Auvinen proved himself to be prophetic. 

Running back Junior Walling scampered for a season-high 216 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries as the Celtics danced their way to a second straight MVC title, defeating South Salem 35-15.

It is the first time since 1998 that McNary has repeated as league champions. 

“We have been working for this all year. It’s huge for us seniors because we have been dreaming about this. It’s just such an amazing feeling,” Walling said. 

The Celtics offense wasted no time getting to work as they went 61 yards in six plays on their opening drive, which was capped off by a 33-yard touchdown by Walling. 

Walling scored his second touchdown of the game from four yards out with 1:01 left in the opening period. The Celtics held a 14-7 lead after Layton Thurlow caught a pass in the end zone from Erik Barker on the two-point conversion. 

South Salem got the ball back and wasted no time getting into the red zone early in the second quarter. And similar to their first drive, the Saxons faced fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. 

But a defensive stop from McNary forced the Saxons to turn the ball over on downs. 

The defensive stop ended up providing a huge momentum boost for McNary.

Using a key first down run from Barker, a pair of receptions from Noah Lelack and a steady dose of hard-fought carries from Walling, the Celtics slowly broke the will of the South Salem defense. 

A 23-yard run from Riley Flores took the ball down to the two, where Walling punched it in on the following play to complete the 99-yard drive.

“I have never seen this offensive line play so well. All five of us came out super strong. It was pound and ground all night,” McNary offensive lineman Nathan Young said. 

Walling also added: “I just trusted my line. They were getting a push all game, so I got to give them all the credit.”

Despite having a lot of success with their vertical passing game in their first two drives, the South Salem defense struggled to get anything going against the Celtics defense for the remainder of the contest. 

After the Saxons could barely get past the line of scrimmage on their next two drives, the Celtics increased their lead to three scores midway through the third quarter when Barker found the goal line from four yards out. 

“Our defense kept getting tougher and tougher throughout the game. We got a few three-and-outs and I think that was huge for us,” Walling said. 

Even though the South Salem offense drove into Celtic territory in each of their next two possessions, the McNary defense forced turnovers both times, including a interception from Celtics linebacker Quinn Bach that was returned to the Saxons 24-yard line — which eventually set up Walling’s fourth touchdown of the game. 

“It’s unbelievable. It’s the same exact story as last season. This team has fought so hard through the season. It’s an honor to play with these guys,” Young said.

Volcanoes clinch first half division crown

For the first time since 2015, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes were in the Northwest League playoffs. 

Yorlis Rodriguez hit an RBI-double in the top of the 12th, then came into score on a base hit by Simon Whiteman, helping give the Volcanoes the 4-3 victory over the Boise Hawks on Sunday, July 21. The win allowed Salem-Keizer to clinch the first half crown in the NWL South division and earn a spot in the postseason.

“It feels good to give this back to the community, because they have waited a long time for this,” said Mitche Graf, the Volcanoes president of business operations. “Now we have to finish the job.”

The Volcanoes finish the first half with a 26-12 record, two games better than the second place Hillsboro Hops. 

“It’s a great feeling. I’m really proud of everyone on this staff and the hard work that we have put in so far,” Volcanoes manager Mark Hallberg said. “We have a talented group of guys that we’re developing.”

Salem-Keizer grabbed the early advantage in the top of the first to go up 1-0. Whiteman led off the contest with a double. But after a free pass was issued to Hunter Bishop, Franklin Labour lined into a double play. Logan Wyatt, however, was able to drive in Whiteman with an RBI-single to left field. 

The Volcanoes struck again in the top of the second thanks to a solo bomb from Armani Smith to put his team up 2-0. It was Smith’s second home run of the season. 

On the mound, Volcanoes starter Kervin Castro was phenomenal in his first four innings of work as the young right-hander from Venezuela gave up just one hit to the Hawks. But in the bottom of the fifth, Boise got on the board with an RBI-double by Daniel Cope to cut the lead to one. 

Castro left the game after five innings, giving up just three hits and one run. He gave up no walks and struck out four.

Boise came back to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth thanks to another RBI-double, this time courtesy of Aaron Schunk, which forced the game to go into extra innings.

A new rule implemented in the minor leagues last season is that when a game goes into extra innings, the player that was the last out of the previous inning starts the frame at second base — this rule was enacted to speed up the pace of play when a game goes past the ninth inning. 

Neither team was able to take advantage of the runner in scoring position in the 10th or 11th innings, but the Volcanoes finally capitalized in the top of the 12th. 

Rodriguez’s double to left field scored Alexander Canario to give the Volcanoes the 3-2 lead. Two batters later, Whiteman came through with a key RBI-single that allowed Salem-Keizer to get a much-needed insurance run. 

In the bottom of the frame, Hallberg brought in reliever Deiyerbert Bolivar to try and get his first save of the season. 

A pair of wild pitches allowed a run to score from second, but Bolivar struck out the side to seal the deal.

Walling signs with OSU

McNary linebacker Junior Walling, had received nearly a dozen offers from Division I schools. And on Thursday, June 13, Walling made the decision on where he wants to continue his career as a student-athlete.

In a two-minute video posted on his Twitter account, Walling reveled that he has committed to Oregon State University to play college football. 

Walling has been an Oregon State fan for his entire life — in large-part due to the fact that his father, Jason, was a tight end and defensive end for the Beavers from 1990-92. So being able to play in Corvallis is a dream come true .

“It feels amazing to know that I will be a Beaver. I grew up dreaming that one day I would be able to play at Reser Stadium,” Walling said.

Walling is the number two in-state recruit and the 14th-ranked inside linebacker in the country according to 247Sports.com

He had offers from Army, Air Force, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Eastern Washington and Utah in addition to his offer from Oregon State. 

In his approach to the recruiting process, Walling broke down his decision into three categories. He wanted to have a solid connection with the coaching staff, he wanted to attend a place that met his academic needs — Walling is a 4.0 student — and he wanted to be at a place that was a good fit socially. 

“I wanted to make sure I felt like I connected with the coaches and had the ability to be successful in the program. I also wanted to make sure that the school had an engineering program, as that is what I will be focusing my education around. Then, of course, it was important to me to be comfortable with where I would be living for the next four to five years of my life,” Walling said. “After my family and I visited more than 15 campuses, it was very clear to me that OSU was where I belonged.”

Walling made it official with the Beavers on Wednesday, Dec. 13 by signing his letter of intent if front of friends, family and local media. 

Hawley and Jackson share prestigious honor

The Salem Sports and Breakfast Club (SSBC) has been recognizing outstanding athletes in the Salem-Keizer area since 1964. And on Friday, May 31, the club added two McNary senior athletes to their historic fraternity. 

Abigail Hawley was honored with the Harold Hauk Award for Female Prep Athlete of the Year while Jacob Jackson was given the Oliver Huston Award for Male Prep Athlete of the Year. 

It was the first time since 1999 that two McNary athletes won were given Athlete of the year honors by SSBC.

Hawley was a four-year varsity player for the girls soccer squad and took home first-team all-Mountain Valley Conference honors in 2018. It was the second straight season she received the first-team all-conference nod. 

Despite playing a litany of different positions over the course of her career, Hawley was the leading goal-scorer for the Celtics in each of her last three years (2016-18). 

Hawley was also a four-year varsity player for the girls basketball team and helped the Celtics reach the playoffs in all four years of her career. 

She led the team in scoring her senior season with 13.3 points per game and was named first-team all-league.

Jackson was also a two-sport star for McNary over his four years of high school, competing in football and baseball — he also played basketball for the Celtics until his senior year.

As one of the most versatile athletes in the state, Jackson received three different all-conference honors in football last fall. 

As a free safety Jackson had 62 tackles, five interceptions and was named first-team all-league. On the other side of the ball, he caught 31 passes for 354 yards and earned an honorable mention nod at receiver. He also was recognized as a honorable mention kicker.

Jackson was able to do this all while playing with injuries to his wrist, elbow and knee.

The injury bug bit Jackson once again during the spring, forcing the star shortstop to miss the last chunk of the season. But Jackson refused to get discouraged about the situation. 

Despite being banged up, Jackson still batted .316 with a .443 on-base percentage and nine extra-base hits. He also stepped up as a leader according to head coach Larry Keeker, and helped the Celtics reach the postseason for the second time in three years.

Smythe highlights HOF class

For the second time this year, McNary High School inducted new members into their prestigious athletic hall of fame, led by one of the best football coaches in state history, Tom Smythe.

Smythe, along with Luke Atwood, Niki Hayhurst Volz and the 2001 state champion football team were all honored in a ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Quality Inn & Suites.

In 34 years of coaching high school football in Oregon, Smythe won 278 games and three state titles in three different decades (1987, 1997, 2001).

Smythe won two of his three state championships with McNary, where he was the head coach from 1995-2006. In his tenure with the Celtics, the 78-year old accrued a record of 105-29 and five conference championships to go along with his two state titles.

Smythe has had many incredible moments over his illustrious career, but one in particular that stands out is the ‘97 state championship game, where the Celtics took down Beaverton by a score of 51-48 — which still holds the record for most combined points in a state championship game. Smythe believes that it was the best state final game ever played.

While he was known as an offensive innovator, what Smythe prided himself most on was making sure that his kids were enjoying playing the game of football.

Once the ceremony had wrapped up, Smythe grabbed the microphone and gave an emotional tribute to the Celtics faithful.

“My 12 years at McNary, I can hardly put it in perspective without tearing up and crying. I always told my players that it was okay for men to cry. And now I find myself in that same situation, where I can hardly speak,” Smythe said. “I feel so blessed to have coached in Keizer, Oregon for the McNary Celts. What a beautiful time.”

Those in attendance erupted in cheers at the conclusion of Smythe’s speech, with the biggest applause coming from the members of his ‘01 state title team, who he was happy to share the spotlight with.

McNary’s ‘01 football squad — also known as the “Giant Killers” — had one of the most dominating postseason runs in state history, winning each of their playoff games by two touchdowns or more. 

The Celtics finished the season with a 13-1 record, which was capped off with a 35-10 victory over Sheldon in the state championship game.

Atwood was an assistant coach on the ‘01 squad. But before that, he was one of the top athletes in McNary history. 

In 1996, Atwood was the quarterback for the McNary football squad, leading the team to a league championship and helping them earn a berth in the state semifinal game. He earned all-state honorable mention status and participated in the East-West Shrine Game for the top players in the state.

On the hardwood, Atwood was a three-year letterman for the Celtics basketball team, earning all-league honors in his senior season and leading McNary to a conference title and a fifth-place finish at the state tournament. 

Atwood also excelled on the diamond as an all-state outfielder for the McNary baseball squad. Because of all of his accomplishments during his senior year, Atwood was named athlete of the year by the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club in 1997. 

Volz was also one of the best multiple-sport athletes in McNary history, and is still the only female Celt to receive All-State honors in two different sports (volleyball and soccer). 

Volz led the McNary volleyball team to three Valley League titles during her tenure with the Celts, including a fifth-place finish at the state tournament in 1998.

Volz was selected as the Valley League player of the year in her senior season, as well as the all-region player of the year in volleyball. 

In softball, Volz experienced similar success, helping the Celts win a conference title in all four years of her career. And in her senior season, Volz took home the same individual accolades as she did during volleyball season, once again winning all-region player of the year and Valley League player of the year. 

Titus heading to World Cup

Anneke Titus, a senior at McNary High, has been competing in roller derby for the last six years.

What started as a fun after school-activity has turned into a deep passion for Titus, which is one of the reasons why she will be heading north of the border this summer. 

Last month, Titus was notified by the Junior Roller Derby Association (JRDA) that she has been selected to compete for Team USA at the Junior Roller Derby World Cup in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Titus will join a team of 19 other skaters considered to be some of the top junior roller derby athletes in the country.

“I really couldn’t believe that I got in. I started crying as soon as I found out. I know that I’m talented, but I never thought I was at that level,” Titus said. “I still can’t describe how excited I am about it.”

Titus first got into the sport at the age of eight when her mom joined a Cherry City Roller Derby adult team. Three years later, a junior team called the Cherry Blossoms was created, which gave Titus a chance to compete. 

Even though she was only allowed to practice at first and couldn’t make contact with other skaters, Titus fell in love with the sport.

“I was so excited when the junior team started,” Titus said. “This is my main passion. I was always a sporty kid growing up, but I just fell in love with roller derby.”

In her time with the Cherry Blossoms, Titus has gotten the opportunity to compete in bouts with the Rose City Rollers in Portland and even got to go to Los Angeles, Calif. for a tournament with her Cherry Blossom teammates. 

After seeing her grow in her skill level, Titus was encouraged to go to Portland for a tryout for the World Cup team. 

In late-September, Titus participated in what she called a “grueling” tryout that was focused heavily on conditioning, followed by a two-hour scrimmage.

“I was trembling by the end of it. I was so sore,” Titus said. “It was very physically demanding, but also very fun.” 

A couple weeks later, Titus got the call to join the team.

“It’s the highlight of my athletic career. I never thought I would be up this high,” Titus said. 

“I really have to credit my coaches over the years. I feel like they have really helped me hone my skills, especially in the last couple years.”

Celts claim Mountain Valley Conference title

The McNary softball team knew they had already clinched the Mountain Valley Conference title in their previous game before they took the field against Bend on Saturday, May 11.

But putting an exclamation point on the conference season on senior night was still a sweet moment for the Lady Celts.

Faith Danner pitched six innings and gave up just seven hits and one earned run to along with her 3-for-4 day at the dish, propelling McNary to the 12-2 run-rule victory against Bend.

“I knew this team was capable to accomplish what they just did,” McNary head coach Kevin Wise said. 

McNary finished MVC play with a 13-1 record and ended the regular season on a 12-game win streak. They also put up double-digit run totals in all but one of their league contests.

Even though they won via mercy-rule, the Celtics still had to deal with some adversity in this game.

McNary held a 1-0 lead when they took the field in the top of the second inning thanks to an RBI-single from Taylor Ebbs in the bottom of the first.

Bend’s Maya Eliff hit a hard ground ball to Ebbs at shortstop to begin the second frame. Ebbs put herself in perfect position to make the play, but the ball took a bad hop and hit her square in the face.

After being tended to for more than 10 minutes, Ebbs had to be escorted off the field with a fractured nose. 

It was difficult for the rest of the McNary squad to see their teammate and star slugger in so much pain. But like they had for much of the season, the Celtics found a way to be resilient. 

Bend tied the game with a run in the top of the second. McNary, however, responded by producing a pair of runs in the bottom half of the frame. 

Hannah Ebner laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Shaylee Cluster and Kayelee Schwab into scoring position after they were both issued free passes.

Kamryn Miller brought in Cluster to score with a sharp single between third base and shortstop on the next at-bat. Alexa Cepeda then followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, putting McNary up 3-1. 

Bend pitcher Lena Zahniser was able to hold McNary without a run in the third and fourth innings. The Lava Bears even cut the deficit to one in the top of the fourth. But the Celtics offense began to break out in the bottom of the fifth. 

Danner and Kate Ronning began the McNary threat with back-to-back one-out singles, which was followed by an RBI-double to center field by Cluster. 

Schwab capped off the inning with a two-run single up the middle to extend McNary’s lead to 6-2.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Celtics continued to pour it on. 

McNary got six runs on five hits in the inning as they ended the game early once they gained a 10-run lead.

It is the second time in three years that the Celtics have been crowned league champions. 

“It honestly feels so good to win league. We have all just gelled really well together,” Ronning said.

McNary sends Burrows and Parra to state meet

After each placing third in their respective divisions at the Mountain Valley Conference District Tournament, both Grady Burrows and Gilbert Parra were thrilled to be representing McNary High School at the state wrestling meet — which took place at Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 22-23. 

Parra (138 lbs.) lost his first bout by major decision, then was eliminated from the tournament after losing via technical fall.

Burrows was able to win a match in the consolation round after getting pinned in his first round bout, but the sophomore 113-pounder lost a tough 3-2 decision that ended his season. 

Even though they didn’t get what they wanted in terms of results, it didn’t take away from what Parra and Burrows accomplished in 2019.

“I am extremely proud of both of those guys,” McNary head coach Jason Ebbs said. “They are the trailblazers for our program right now. They took our culture to the next step.”

Burrows, who was wrestling in his second straight state meet, had the goal of making in onto the second day. 

While it looked like he was holding his own in the opening minute of his first round match against sixth-seeded Jeremiah Van Cleve from Centennial, Burrows got turned on his back and suffered an early fall.

But Burrows wasn’t going to let the loss discourage him as he made quick work of Finn Whittaker from Wilson in the first consolation match, getting the pin in less than a minute. 

Burrows had the upper-hand for the majority of his next match against Sherwood’s Nick Hekker, taking a 2-1 lead into the final round. But he surrendered a two-point near-fall in the final minute of the bout to suffer a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.

Parra, on the other hand, was just happy to just be at the state tournament after having a strong end to the regular season. 

“Gilbert is the perfect example of a kid setting his mind to a goal and then just going after it,” Ebbs said. “Getting to (state) was a great accomplishment for him.”

MYF eighth graders go undefeated

It’s one thing to finish the season undefeated, but it’s a whole other thing to do it in dominating fashion. 

But that’s exactly what the McNary Youth Football varsity eighth-grade team did to Lake Oswego on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 9 at Tigard High School. 

The Celtics controlled the game from start to finish, beating Lake Oswego 28-6 to clinch the AFC bracket of the Tualatin Valley Football League with a 10-0 record. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of all these kids. They earned it. Each player worked their butts off and they just put the pieces together all season long,” Celtics head coach Dan Burrus said. 

The McNary offense was a little bit sloppy to come out the gate as they committed multiple penalties that stalled their first two drives and couldn’t take advantage of a pair of early turnovers by Lake Oswego. But the Celtics were able to tighten things up as the second quarter began. 

The Celtics defense got a huge fourth down stop in Lake Oswego territory when defensive lineman Nick Henry came away with a sack to give McNary the ball back. 

Facing a third-and-10, Celtics quarterback Jesse Dyer hit Gage Smedema perfectly in stride down the sideline for the touchdown to get McNary on the board. 

McNary forced the Lakers third fumble of the game on the following possession, which was recovered by Cougar Bailey and taken down to the Lake Oswego 12-yard line.

Four plays later, McNary running back Pierce Walker punched it in from a yard out to give his team the 14-0 lead. 

“We tried to take pride in focus and attitude. We just told the the boys to calm down and get their heads back in the game,” Burrus said. 

Lake Oswego responded with a 72-yard touchdown run on the following play from scrimmage to get within one score. But McNary wasn’t phased in the slightest. 

An 18-yard scramble by Dyer had 15 yards tacked on to it after a late hit from a Lake Oswego defender, which took the ball down to the Lakers 22-yard line. 

Once they got the ball into the red zone, the Celtics stuck to their power run game to push the ball across the goal line. Walker wound up reaching the end zone from four yards out to put McNary on top 21-6.

“We knew that if the running backs hit the holes harder, they weren’t going to be able to stop us. It was mainly because our linemen blocking so well.” Walker said.

Lake Oswego had a chance to score before the half, but an interception from Smedema turned the Lakers away.

Cameron Ferrando got in on the turnover action to start the third quarter, intercepting a pass for the Celtics fifth takeaway and taking it down to the Lakers 17-yard line. The next play, Ferrando got to finish the job at running back, going into the end zone untouched to put the game on ice.

McNary forced the sixth Lake Oswego turnover in the fourth quarter when Christopher Cortez got a pick with 7:39 remaining. 

“They all know what their responsibilities are. When they cover and do what they’re supposed to do, that’s what our defense can look like. They were pretty dominant,” Burrus said.

Keizer race walker pursues OlympicsLydia McGranahan has always had a passion for being active.

The 42-year old Keizer resident loves backpacking, hiking and biking. She teaches water aerobics and spin classes at Kroc Center in Salem and has also competed in triathlons in the past. 

And in less than three years, McGranahan has turned that passion into becoming one of the best race walkers in the country.

On Sept. 30, 2018, McGranahan qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50 Kilometer race walk by finishing her race in 5:08.16 at the Open & Masters Race Walk Championships in Owego, NY.

Just six months later, McGranahan also met the Olympic Trials time requirement for the 20K event at the Race Walk Championships in Tustin, Calif. 

“It’s blown me away how fast all of this happened,” McGranahan said. 

McGranahan was first introduced to race walking in 2014 when her daughter, Mariah, who was 10 years old at the time, started competing in the sport at Salem Track Club.

In the summer of 2016, both McGranahan and her daughter were volunteers during the U.S Olympic Trials race walking event, which took place in Salem. 

Just months later, while taking Mariah to a race walking coach in Portland, McGranahan was encouraged to just try it out for a few laps and soon discovered that she was matching Olympic qualifying time in her 200 meter intervals. 

After participating in a Portland to Coast race walking relay in the summer of 2017, teammates saw McGranahan’s potential and encouraged her to attempt a 20K. 

After weeks of consideration, McGranahan decided that she would give it a try. 

In January of 2018, McGranahan flew down to Santee, Calif. to compete in her first 20K and finished just a few minutes below Olympic Trials qualifying time. 

Six months later, she was competing at a 20K in Des Moines Iowa, where she wound racing against some of the athletes she was assisting during the 2016 Olympic Trials. 

With her success in the 20K, McGranahan decided to push herself even further by trying her first 50K in New York in September of 2018.

Despite not working with a trainer and having no experience with the 50K, McGranahan still finished well ahead of Olympic Trials qualifying time.

While qualifying for the 50K seemed like a lofty goal, McGranahan thought that meeting the 20K time would be even more difficult. 

But throughout McGranahan’s short race walking career, she has surpassed her own expectations, and this race was no different as she finished her 20K in personal-best time (1:45.51) on March 17 to qualify for her second Olympic Trials race.