Spruce Mountain coach Zachary Keene speaks with his players during a summer-camp practices in Jay.

You don’t have to look hard to see why the Spruce Mountain Phoenix are enjoying their newfound prosperity in the Mountain Valley Conference.

Ask coach Zachary Keene about his Spruce Mountain girls’ basketball team’s success and he’ll tell you it is the team’s chemistry and camaraderie that has given the high-flyin’ Phoenix a lift and a shot at the playoffs.

There is no question the Phoenix have true grit.

“These athletes seem to enjoy playing together,” Keene said. “Does that help? Absolutely! They are each others biggest cheerleaders and supporters. That’s huge.

“I am around them every day. I see them work. I hear them talk.They know what they want and they know what they have to do to achieve that.

“I have a really hard working group of girls that set clear goals for themselves and the team coming into this season.”

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Keene is not sure if moving to the Mountain Valley Conference has been a factor in the Phoenix’s triumphs.

“It’s hard to say if it has helped us or not,” Keene explained. “Both the MVC and KVAC conferences have some really good teams. I knew what kind of players we had returning and was confident we would be a tough team if we committed to things.”

There are handful of players who have stepped up and surprised Keene this season.

“Jaycee Cole and Calley Baker have both been great this year for us,” Keene said. “I knew what I would get out of our returning players, but Jaycee and Calley were wild cards. They are both committed to getting better and it has shown. Jaycee has been phenomenal.

“She, along with Emily White, is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. She has also done a great job taking some of the ball-handling load off of Morgan Dalton.

“I’m very happy with the strides she is making and continues to make. Calley is an energizer bunny. She brings an elite level of athleticism and tenacity off our bench that the team really feeds off of.”

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Veterans have also played a strong role in the Phoenix’s prosperous season.

“I have been happy with the returners. I knew coming into the season what they were capable of doing,” Keene said. “Hanna has really stepped up in an expanded role and is really starting to settle in and be a top player. Hailee Perkins has been steady and really solid, a calm presence on the floor. Morgan’s experience is huge for us.

“Haley Turcotte has really taken on the challenge of being the go-to scorer and play maker for us. Em White just grinds, outworks people. She’s tough as nails. Lauren Cornelio, Emily Goding, Lyndzi Dolloff continue to work hard every day. It’s just a really good group that embraces the role that is asked of them.”

Now Spruce Mountain’s goal of making the playoffs is in its sight even without having that one big girl inside the key.

“That is our goal,” Keene added. “We have a long way to go but huge opportunities lie ahead for us.

“I know the Phoenix are not alone with this problem (lack of height). Hard work. Heart. Grit. Toughness. We make up for it in those areas. That’s what rebounding is.”

It is obvious the Phoenix are having fun and it helps to have a winning season and a chance to make it to the postseason.

“Every team is different,” Keene said. “Every team writes their own story. They have a chip about them.

“They work extremely hard each day with their goal in mind and enjoy being around each other while doing it. They want to prove people wrong and it shows in how they work.”

Spruce Mountain’s Morgan Dalton (12) and Hanna St. Pierre (25) defend against Hall-Dale’s Sabrina Freeman (20) in a recent basketball game at Spruce Dome.


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