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Lady Celts take to court with new coach, up-tempo game

Hayden McCowan lays up a shot while Jon Kiser defends in practice last week. McCowan and Kiser both return to the Celtic roster this year. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Since first capturing the then-Valley League title nearly a decade ago, the Lady Celts of the McNary High School girls varsity basketball team has had a fairly consistent presence in the top ranks of its league.

This year, they’ll see if they can do even better with a former coach of their arch rival, West Salem High School, at the helm.

“Honestly, it’s great knowing that everyone is giving 100 percent. We’re excited to be trying a bunch of new things and seeing how that is working on the court,” said Baili Keeton, a returning junior.

The team’s new coach Paul Pickerell, a longtime assistant varsity coach for the Titans, took over for Molly Gehley earlier this year.

“It’s feeling really good, we’ve got smart, hard-working kids. Their high basketball-IQ has helped them catch on really quick to the new stuff we’ve implemented and I’m hoping it will allow us to add a lot more as the year unfolds,” he said.

The Lady Celts finished third in the Central Valley conference last year and earned a playoff berth that put them up against Sheldon High School in the first round of the state tournament. McNary lost that game 79-61.

In addition to Keeton, the team will likely boast senior returners Caitlin Tartak, Teresa Peterson, Aerial Rice and Jessica Darras.

“Practice has been a lot more serious and we’re working harder than we ever have before,” said Peterson. “We’ve also got a lot of young players keeping up the pace.”

Pickerell said the senior leadership on the team has been “fantastic.”

“They listen to instructions and they ask great questions when they don’t understand something,” he said.

The team plans to run a faster-paced game than the one they’d grown accustomed to, but that was all right with Keeton.

“We’re putting a huge amount of time into working on our transitions and getting the ball up the court before the defense has a chance to reset. It takes a lot more focus, but I’d rather play at that faster pace,” she said.

The team’s deep roster means there will be plenty of fresh legs to make sure the Celts can maintain a fevered pitch.

“We’re going to play a fast-paced up-tempo type of game where we’re getting down the floor and getting a shot off, and then pressure, pressure, pressure on defense,” he said.

Executing well on defense is going to hinge on precise screening, Peterson said.

“When we screen perfectly, the plays are going really well in practice, it will be exciting to see what happens in a game,” she said.

McNary hosts its first game Tuesday, Dec. 4 and, until then, Pickerell said the word of the week is: patience.

“Not everybody is where we need them to be on every play, so I want to see them clean some of that up. We just all have to be patient while everyone gets on the same page,” he said.