By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
The singing started with 1:33 left to play.
It came from the McNary student section—“We are the champions.”
With 54 seconds remaining, Celtics head coach Ryan Kirch called a timeout so seniors Riccardo Gardelli, Andrew Jones, Lucas Garvey and Chandler Cavell could each leave the court, one at a time, to cheers from the stands and hugs from the bench.
The countdown was then on, 10, nine, eight… until the final buzzer sounded and McNary students stormed the court to celebrate a Greater Valley Conference championship.
The Celtics sealed the GVC title with a 73-56 win over McMinnville on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
After the game, coaches passed out championship t-shirts. On the back was a picture of the team and under it the words “GVC League Champs, 5th to 1st.”
Before the season, McNary was picked by the league’s coaches to finish fifth in the GVC and the Celtics certainly hadn’t forgotten.
“That put a chip on our shoulder,” said Garvey, who had 18 points while going 5-for-8 from 3 against McMinnville. “We took it to heart and we played really good this season.”
A ladder was then placed under the basket and each player cut down the net, one string at a time, beginning with the seniors and ending with Kirch.
“It just solidifies what I hope our program is recognized for, being competitive, being tough and most importantly playing together as a group,” Kirch said of the league championship. “These guys are all really good friends and you can tell by the way they play. They just love playing with each other and for each other and it’s contagious. You can see it on the floor.”
No better example of that on this night was junior Boston Smith, who came off the bench, so senior Daniel Zwemke could start on senior night.
“I asked Boston if he was comfortable with Dan starting and he couldn’t have been happier,” Kirch said. “It was about the team. It’s hard to find that anymore in high school athletics. These guys just love playing together and they love McNary and the city of Keizer is unique in that we just have one high school here and this is the high school of Keizer. Kids grow up wanting to play for McNary and experience all of that.”
Gardelli, an exchange student from Italy, had 18 points, 16 rebounds and five assists in the victory.
“This is the best night of my life,” Gardelli said. “We played like a real team, like a family. I’ve never been on a team where they take me like a member of the family and I’ve been here just six months and to me it’s just like a second family. I feel blessed. I’m from the middle of nowhere and I’m winning a league championship. League championship, I can’t stop saying that.
“I’m always trying to get better and this game is showing off the work that I did. I don’t know how many rebounds I get. I don’t know how many points I get but I know that we’re a beautiful team. We all play together. Everybody was on fire tonight.”
Cavell, who also had 18 points to go with five rebounds, was at a loss for words after winning the league.
“I’ve got nothing,” Cavell said. “That was a goal from the first practice of the year. It feels amazing. Winning with my friends, that’s the best part.”
Sprague had appeared to wrap up the GVC title with a 56-47 win at McNary on Jan. 26. But the Olympians lost three in a row to West Salem, McKay and McMinnville, and the Celtics took advantage closing the season with convincing wins against South Salem, West Salem and McMinnville.
Now McNary turns its attention to the state playoffs and getting to the quarterfinals at the Chiles Center, where it hasn’t been since 2004.
The 6A boys state playoffs begin Wednesday, Feb.28. As a top eight seed, the Celtics would play at home the first two rounds.
“We know once we get to playoffs there’s no room for error,” Kirch said. “You slip up a little bit, you miss some shots and that can be it. I think our kids are mature enough to understand that and again we’ve just got to keep getting better and keep practicing and take one practice at a time and then one game at a time.
“First goal was tonight and we’re going to enjoy it like crazy but we’ve got to get to the round of 16 and then we’ll have the opportunity to go to Portland and then we’ll just keep going one at a time. There’s more work to do but this is pretty sweet tonight.”