H.S. girls’ basketball: A Keene presence for the Phoenix

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JAY — Emily Keene expected more from herself. 

After three quarters, the Spruce Mountain senior saw how close the game was, knew she could have done more. She also knew her team expected more.

So, she made a difference.

“I hadn’t done anything, and I felt like it was my fault,” Keene said. “When you’re a kid that scores and you’re not scoring and the team isn’t up by much, you’ve kind of got to look in the mirror.”

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Keene scored 10 points in the final quarter and helped spark the Phoenix to a comfortable win over the Leavitt Hornets. She had hit just five free throws before that.

“I looked at the scoreboard and then looked at myself,” Keene said.

Facing pressure and expectations is nothing new for Keene. She quickly became a household name in the Spruce Mountain athletic programs as a freshman. She has been the goalie on the girls’ soccer team, a guard/forward on the basketball team and a pitcher on the softball team.

“I love them all,” Keene said. “I put the pressure on myself.”

She also loves the competition. While the soccer and softball teams have had meager success during her high school career, the basketball program has been among the best in the Mountain Valley Conference before moving to the KVAC this year. The Phoenix are coming off back-to-back 18-0 regular seasons and 45 straight wins in the MVC. They’re currently 3-0 in the KVAC.

“We’re not as competitive in the other sports,” Keene said. “In basketball, I always look forward to it. We’ve been together all the way up through. All my friends are with me, and it’s just really competitive.”

Though Keene is a senior, she’s such an established presence with the Phoenix that her role hasn’t changed much this year.

The team only graduated two players, and this year’s group of seniors has been the core of the team in recent years. Keene joins veterans Vanese Barnes, Sam Richards, Nicole Hamblin, Amanda Castonguay, Ami Pelletier and Kailee Newcomb on an experienced club. That makes it easier for Keene to maintain the kind of leadership role she’s always had.

“She’s a vocal leader,” Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey said. “She’s not afraid to be vocal or be heard. That’s what you need from a senior, especially from someone that has played as long as she has. “

Another thing that hasn’t changed for Keene this season is the versatility she brings to the Phoenix. She can be a force inside or handle the ball well on the perimeter and hit the outside shot.

“Playing against a zone actually benefits her because she can do both,” Bessey said. “If she needs to go inside, she can. If she needs to step out, she can do that as well.”

It gives the team great flexibility. The Phoenix play a fast-paced game and rely greatly on their defense and turnovers. Keene can play that style, but also can be a tough matchup if a halfcourt battle breaks out.  If the team needs to have a larger presence inside, she can play there along with Richards and be one of the team’s better rebounders. If they need a shooter from the outside, she has one of the best shots on the team.

“When she shoots like that, she makes us pretty hard to guard,” Bessey said after Keene hit two 3s in the fourth quarter Monday.

Another key part of her versatility is her willingness to be flexible. It doesn’t matter to her whether she’s playing in the post or along the perimeter.

“I don’t care, as long as we win,” she said.

This could be Keene’s last hurrah as an athlete. She’s thinking about the pharmacy field. Though she hasn’t chosen a school yet, that might determine whether she continues athletics at the next level.

“It depends on where I go,” she said. “Some places I’m looking at don’t have sports.”

That has Keene even more focused on the season at hand. After the Phoenix reached the Western B semifinals for the first time last year, Spruce Mountain is hoping to see what it can do in the KVAC and in the Western B tournament again. While some things have changed, her aspirations and role have remained the same.

“It’s a new coach and a new outlook,” Keene said. “We still have the same goal. The style of play is a little bit different. We push the ball more, but we still have the same goals.”

kmills@sunjournal.com

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