McNary point guard Leah Doutt takes the ball to the rack in a game against Mountain View last season. Doutt will likely be one of the top returning players in the Mountain Valley Conference (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

In each of Elizabeth Doran’s first two years as the girls basketball coach at McNary High, the Celtics were one of the younger teams in the league.

But as she prepares for her third season at the helm, Doran is thrilled to be returning eight players that were on the varsity roster last season.

“For the first time in a while, we have a more experienced group. We have been pretty young over the past two years, and now we have a strong junior class to go along with two seniors that have been in the program for a couple years that know what to expect from me and know what to expect from each other,” Doran said. “It’s a good group. I love coaching them and I am looking forward to the season.”

The top player out of McNary’s eight returners is junior guard Leah Doutt, who could be a candidate for Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year by the time the regular season is over.

Doutt was a second-team all-league performer last season, averaging 12 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. She also led the team in assists and blocked shots. 

With her multi-faceted offensive ability, Doutt will likely be at the center of the scouting report for all of McNary’s opponents. 

“Leah is going to have a target on her back, because she’s such a great player. She can score the basketball really well and can create shots for herself, but she is also a great distributer and is really good at setting up her teammates,” Doran said.

Despite returning the majority of their roster, the Celtics will greatly miss the services of Abigail Hawley.

As a senior last season, Hawley was one of the top scorers in the conference at 13.3 points per game. She also led the McNary in steals (30) and three-point field goals (25), and was named first-team all-league. 

While Doutt looks to take over the bulk of McNary’s scoring, Doran believes that the Celtics will have other players that will be able to step into key offensive roles. 

“Losing Abby is hard because we lose a lot of scoring and someone who embraced a leadership role. But there are a lot of people stepping up,” Doran said. 

Junior shooting guard Mackenzie Proctor started for most of the season last year and proved to be a consistent sharpshooter for McNary. Look for her to play an even bigger role in the offense this season.  

“We have seen a big improvement with Kenzie and her confidence. When she’s confident, she’s hard to guard because she shoots the ball really well and can also go off the dribble. I think she will step into more of a scoring roll for us,” Doran said. 

The Celtics will also return junior guard Kennedy Buss, who was an honorable mention performer last season. Buss led the team in rebounding and was arguably the best on-ball defender in the league. 

“She’s always going to give us great defense, but I believe Kennedy is going to step up and hit more shots for us this year,” Doran said. 

For the second year in a row, McNary will be a team that lacks size. But thanks to their quickness and athleticism, the Celtics are hoping to make life difficult on opposing teams with their defensive pressure. 

“I think we will be able to put more full-court defensive pressure on teams. We want to avoid getting caught in half-court games where we’re sitting back and teams are posting us up,” Doran said. “We want to make it a full-court game as much as possible and have a high intensity defense where we are putting teams back on their heels.”

While the incoming freshman class has the potential to be dangerous down the road, Doran believes that the Celtics top newcomer will be Kendyl Jennings. 

This will be Jennings fourth year in the program — she played on the junior varsity team last season. But with her experience and individual growth, look for Jennings to play meaningful minutes at post for the Celtics this season. 

“(Jennings) runs the floor well and will be a good addition to the 4-5 position for us,” Doran said. 

Junior forwards Annie Leigh Besa and Rebekah Grimmer are returners that will also see significant minutes in the front-court. 

McNary finished last year five games under .500, but went 8-6 in MVC play. The Celtics will have a challenging non-league schedule once again, but Doran has lofty goals for this team once they get into their conference slate. 

“We definitely want to compete for the league title. We feel like we have a group of girls that can do that. We just have to play together and play team basketball on both ends of the court,” Doran said.