Emotions flowed during a pregame remembrance for former Juanita High coach Sloan Strohl last Friday night at the Rebels’ fieldhouse.
Players shed tears while speaking about Strohl, who passed away from cancer at the age of 43 on Nov. 2.
Before practice on Monday, senior Brighton Maughan expressed his love for Sloan and said: “Coach, he was such a big part of our community, he was always there for everyone. This season’s for Sloan.”
First-year coach Justin Mezistrano said it was a tough first half against Redmond that night, but the Rebels — with thoughts of Strohl in their minds — persevered and notched the win, 49-43.
Maughan tallied 25 points for Juanita that night, including 19 in the second half.
For the 5-foot-10 point guard and fourth-year varsity player, “The keys to success so far are we’re having great practices, we’ve got a great coaching staff this year and we’re still looking to build.”
At press time, the Rebels (1-0 in 3A KingCo and 2-1 overall) were without the services of a few players because of an injury and other factors, and Maughan said that when they return, the team will be even stronger.
Maughan has played basketball since was 4 years old and always dreamed of playing on the Rebel varsity squad. It’s senior year and he’s ready to go.
“It feels great. I was nervous at first, but my teammates always got me and my coaching staff (does, too) and I’m feeling really confident about this season,” he said, adding that he’s, “Just gotta be a leader, hold everyone accountable every day in practice and just keep getting better every practice.”
Other top returners for the squad that finished 5-10 in league and 8-13 overall last year include Matthew McCool (6-0 senior guard), Ryan Trautmann (6-0 junior guard) and Zach Miller (6-6 senior center). Senior Darius Johnson (5-9) transferred to Juanita from Snohomish and will make an impact, and then there’s Michael Casper, a 6-4 freshman forward who scorched the nets with 22 points in a loss to Edmonds Woodway and 19 in a win over Arlington.
“He just got great skills and he’s so polished for a young kid, it’s incredible,” Mezistrano said of Casper. “So tough, too. He uses his body in such good ways around the hoop (to) really shield guys and make plays that way. He’s got a great jump shot, too.”
Casper, who has played basketball since kindergarten, enjoys the fans, the atmosphere and the competition. He’s always admired the Rebel varsity players and is thrilled to be a member of the top-tier prep squad.
“I’ve been working hard in practice and my teammates are pushing me to be better every day, so I give it all to them,” he said. “I was pretty scared the first couple minutes, and then after that it was just all uphill and became kind of normal.”
Casper said he’ll be fine if he keeps his mind in the game and showcases his best basketball.
For Mezistrano, he said it’s vital that the Rebels play good defense, “make the right play, always do what’s the best for your team and just trust each other.”
The Rebel newcomer spent the last two years as the varsity assistant coach at Mercer Island, and prior to that he was head coach of the Newport C team.
It’s the Newport alum’s first head coaching job and he said it’s “huge” for him to jump into the top spot.
“That’s my dream for the last six years, just grinding for that goal,” he said. “When I got that call that I got this job offer, man, that was a great day. That was a lot of hard work paid off.”