Basketballs are thumping up and down the court as the prep season is underway. Here’s a rundown of the Juanita and Lake Washington boys and girls squads as they jump into the action.
It’s all about the details for the Rebels this season, according to coach Justin Mezistrano.
“Outlook is strong. Key to our success is to grind and grow every day,” he said.
Leading the way for Juanita will be top returners Cooper McLeod (a senior 5-foot-11 guard) and John Addo-Kufuor (also a senior 5-11 guard) to go along with key newcomers Liam Freinik (a sophomore 6-foot-1 forward) and Michael Casper (a junior 6-foot-4 forward).
The Rebels, who finished 6-14 overall last season, opened the 2019-2020 campaign with a 57-51 victory over Lynnwood. Juanita was 1-4 overall at press time.
The Rebels possess speed, athleticism and leadership within their returning guards, according to coach Azuma Bearden.
Juanita’s two top returning guards are senior captain Chelsea Hill (5-6) and junior point guard Kayla Huff (5-3), both of whom notched honorable-mention accolades on the 2A/3A KingCo all-league teams last season. Hill excels at shooting and playmaking and Huff brings great court vision and shooting ability to the court, Bearden said.
On the top newcomer front, there’s junior small forward Nevaeh Williams (5-9) and freshman small forward Joy Haltom (5-9). “Both bring length, energy and toughness to help lead the defensive front,” the coach said.
“After reaching the third round of districts last year, our team has aspirations of making another big step in trying to make a state run,” said Bearden, whose coaching philosophy includes a fast-paced style of play with a defensive focus.
Juanita finished 12-13 overall last season and was 2-2 at press time.
Coach Ryan Staudacher’s team graduated seven seniors from last season’s squad and welcomes a host of new players to the court.
LW is undersized, but competes on every possession and displays unselfish ball, the coach said.
“There are a lot of things that must be learned by the new pieces, but if we are able to come together and find a way to defend and rebound, we will be competitive in a lot of games this year,” he said.
On the top-returners list from last season’s 12-9 squad (2-2 this time out at press time), there’s senior guard Evan Liggett (6-2) and junior guard D’von Fisher (5-8). New additions to the squad are junior Jackson Pribic (6-5), sophomore Ben Nyqusit (6-1), junior Ryan Strausburg (6-3) and junior Laphonso Thomas (6-foot).
There’s more than playing solid defense and draining shots on the Kangs’ docket during the season.
“We believe that being good teammates is as important as being a good basketball player. Our program emphasizes the growth of these kids into young men, on and off the court,” Staudacher said.
Lake Washington graduated just one player from last year’s team, which won the 3A KingCo title and advanced to the regional tournament. Coach Jeff Wilson said the Kangs plan to build off the chemistry and continue the flow from last season’s 15-10 squad.
“We play defense first, we play with great energy at all times and we make the extra pass,” Wilson said.
Wilson has a lot of players to choose from when listing top returners. Leading the way are junior guard Sophia Liesse (5-10), sophomore guard Rosa Smith (5-6), sophomore forward Elise Hani (6-4) and state-championship soccer players Jen Estes (5-8 senior guard) and Ellie Pederson (5-10 junior guard). Freshman 6-footer Sydney Hani will give the Kangs a boost at forward.
“We have two non-negotiables: we don’t get outworked and we play together,” Wilson said. “Playing hard is a skill for us, we have 10 girls who compete every possession. Also, no one player is bigger than the team; if a teammate has a better shot, we make the pass.”