Friday, November 13, 2009

Nuts and bolts of community journalism

I have fond memories of working on this story, and I think there's a quote from every girl who was on the team.

Published Feb. 27, 2004 in the Keizertimes.

Coach Marlo Cleary lost a bet this season.

The McNary High School girls varsity basketball team won the 2004 Valley League title, and that means she has to get her navel pierced.

Team members joked that winning their side of the bet was one of the best things about winning the title last week.

The team is the first McNary girls basketball team to bring home the trophy in nearly 40 years of school history. The girls are also the first Salem-Keizer team to win the Valley League in 12 years.

Side bets and trophies aside, what got the girls to this point was teamwork. As they entered the state competition this week, they weren't looking back. The girls were set for their first test of the postseason Wednesday night, past Keizertimes press time, against Grant High School.

"I don't see why we can't take it to the Chiles Center," said Kristen McDonnell on Tuesday.

Reaching the University of Portland athletic complex has been a longtime goal for many of the girls.

"We used to go there when we were kids to watch the other girls play and say 'we are going to play here one day,'" said Lisa Zahradnik.

"We had big goals ," said Molly Taylor.

The Lady Celts finished the regular season with a 17-1 record in league play and only one loss outside league play, to Sheldon High School.

"We got waxed at Sheldon," said Cleary, "It was almost comical, everything that could go wrong did. But we were able to learn something from it and put it away."

Cleary said the only time she ever worried was in the first league game of the season, against South Albany High School.

"We started that game 9-2, and I began to think maybe we aren't as good as I thought we were, but the girls got it together and we won," she said.

"I think it was during that first South Albany game that the team really came together," said Kristy Ziebart.

The team hit its biggest stumbling block in the form of the Corvallis High School Spartans. In the Lady Celts' sole league loss, the Spartans dominated McNary in a game in January.

"Corvallis was a real wakeup call," said Taylor. "We hadn't quite figured out that every team was coming at us with all they had."

Memorable games for the girls included two close wins over Crescent Valley, the team that was favored at the season's start to take home the title.

In a season of firsts, this year also marked the first time ever that the varsity team beat the Raiders. As if to cement the accomplishment, they did it twice.

"Beating Crescent Valley felt good. Everyone thought it was a fluke the first time we did it, but we proved it wasn't the second time around," said McDonnell.

For the team's sole sophomore, Erin Yankus, beating Crescent Valley the second time was the most memorable game of the season.

"Because we went overtime, but also because we had a big crowd. People don't show up for us like they do for the boys," she said.

One of the keys to the Celts' success this past season was their selfless approach to the game.

Nearly every one of the players who saw significant time on the court has led the team in scoring at one of the games this past season.

"One of our greatest achievements is that we made it as a team," said Cassie Merrill. "We don't have one star player."

"We always worked together as a team throughout the season," said Rachel Russell.

At practice Monday the girls were all business. The Valley League champs weren't resting on their laurels. The Lady Celts were looking ahead to this week's games with the same confidence with which they approached all their opponents this season.

"I think we've always been confident in our ability to make it this far," said Aubrey Cowan. "But we're just confident, not cocky."

In Wednesday's game, the girls faced a Grant team that was tied for its league's lead until the final game last week. A Celtic win would pit the Keizer girls against the winner of a Beaverton-Pendleton game on Saturday.

Kaitlyn George said that discipline and chemistry on the court has gotten the team through tough games like the ones they expect to face this week.

"We get after it on the hustle, and we achieve our goals," she said.

The girls' enthusiasm for the game is matched only by their respect for each other.

"This is the best team I've ever played on," said Katie Robinson. "They really are my family."

Sarah Behrends said that she has made some of her best friendships while playing with the Lady Celts.

Regardless of the outcome of their games this week, the girls will take on their future challenges with the same sense of teamwork and family that has given them a place in Celtic history.

"I've been with some of these girls since the fifth and sixth grade," said Katie Guile, "We're a family. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for them and I know they'll always have my back."

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