McNary’s Regann Donahue (14) takes on a defender in the Celtics intersquad scrimmage at Blue Day on Friday, Aug. 23 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

Despite losing some key pieces from last year’s team, the McNary girls soccer program still brings a litany of experience to the 2019 season — the Celtics have eight seniors and nine juniors on their roster.

But one thing that will be noticeably different about this year’s McNary team is how they approach things on offense in their second season in the Mountain Valley Conference (MVC). 

Last season, even with having the talent of forward Abigail Hawley — a 2018 first-team all-leaguer — and midfielders Katy Wyatt and Gina Munguia — who both also received all-conference recognition last year — the Celtics struggled to score goals for the majority of the 2018 season. 

McNary was shut out in in seven of their 14 games last season and even suffered a scoreless streak that lasted five games in a row — the Celtics finished the season with a 5-8-1 record and narrowly missed the playoffs.

However, head coach AJ Nash has a plan to revitalize the McNary offense this season.

“Last year we had a great group of upperclassmen that featured midfielders and forwards that still struggled against some of the best teams in the state. We have re-worked our game-plan where we will be adding more numbers into our attack,” Nash said. “We also have special things up our sleeves as it pertains to set pieces.”

“We want to get more girls in the box and take more chances. We’re going to really focus on maximizing those opportunities. Our goal is to have one of the best set-piece ratios in the state.”

Nash also mentioned that he hopes to send as many as nine players to the box at times this season.

One of the reasons Nash believes he will be able to change up the offensive strategy is because he has a a group of experienced players on the back line that he has a lot of confidence in. 

Seniors Maya Luscomb and Samantha Alfano have been a part of the McNary program for four years and will be the leaders of the Celtics defense as they each will play centre-back. They will be joined on the back line by junior Ashlyn Lyda. 

Defense was one aspect of the game that McNary hung their hat on last season, giving up just one goal per game during league play. In years past, Nash has played with four on the back line. This season, however, the fifth-year head coach will rely on his three upperclassmen to carry the torch for the Celtics defense as he plans to add Audrey Williams to the front line — Williams was a defender last season. 

“Because of how strong we our in the back, I feel very comfortable taking more chances and adding an extra body into the attack,” Nash said. “Defensively, I feel very good about this year. If you have a good defense, it’s hard to lose.” 

Senior forward Julie Dieker, who is the Celtics top returning scorer, will be called upon to play a big role for McNary’s offense this season.

“Julie is a standout returner. She will be a vocal point that we will build our game-plan around this season,” Nash said. 

Senior midfielder Ariana Santana is also expected to be a key contributor to the Celtics goal-scoring opportunities. 

“(Santana) is crafty and she can beat people in one-on-one situations,” Nash said. 

McNary faced one of the toughest schedules in the conference last season, with more than half their games coming against playoff teams. The schedule won’t get any easier in 2019, but Nash is feels that his girls have a high combination of fitness and soccer I.Q. that will bode well for them when they face more challenging opponents. 

“From a fitness standpoint, we are further along then any team that I have coached in my career here. That helps up as a coaching staff work less on fitness and more on the tactical stuff that leads to wins. That is going to keep us in games,” Nash said. 

“On paper, we’re not bigger, faster or stronger, but we can be smarter. We’re going to challenge our girls to outwork teams and play with less predictability.”

The MVC will likely be one of the best conferences in the state with teams like Summit and West Salem, who are projected to be top-12 teams. But by the end of the season, the Celtics hope to finish towards the top of the league

“Making playoffs is our goal. It’s always been our goal, but we feel like this year, it’s in reach,” Nash said. “We control our destiny every year in our league, so we want to be in the top three in conference and that vision is shared as a group.”