Grant Mahler and the rest of the seniors on the Maranatha Christian High basketball team wanted to leave high school with a championship banner hanging in the gym.
The 6-foot guard began this season as the lone returning starter and the first half of the basketball season was a struggle. Wins were hard to come by for the Eagles.
“I kind of felt deserted by buddies last year when they all left,’’ Mahler said, smirking.
Down the stretch, though, the team has jelled since the start of Pacific League play. But the Eagles, despite winning three of their final four games, dropped a game to eventual champion Tri-City Christian in the final days to finish in second place.
“It would have been really nice to put up a league title banner,’’ Mahler said. “A banner means a lot to me because it will be there as long as the school is open, basically forever. Our mentality as seniors is we wanted to win something like league and then go as far as we can in the playoffs. To put up something permanent like a banner is great.’’
Unfortunately, the Eagles did not earn a berth in the San Diego Section playoffs.
After playing two seasons at Pacific Ridge, Mahler transferred to Maranatha, making an immediate impact on a team that went 9-19 overall and just 4-6 in league play as a junior.
This season is almost a mirror image.
The Eagles are 9-19 overall but have forged a respectable 5-3 league record.
Mahler’s contribution at both schools cannot be dismissed. He scored 161 and 209 points in his two seasons at Pacific Ridge.
Following up last year’s campaign at Maranatha with 274 points, Mahler crept to within five points of 1,000 career points as the season wound down.
He got those final five points in a loss Tri-City Christian in the final week of the regular season last week as he finished with 1,017 career points.
“I’ve looked forward to hitting that milestone,’’ Mahler said. “I didn’t feel any pressure this whole time. Even if it didn’t happen, as long as we win games and maybe win league, I’d be fine with it. I never felt any pressure to reach 1,000.’’
Being the main man was Mahler’s role last season, at least at the offensive end of the floor.
With a new cast of players on the floor, Mahler changed his game to include the other shooters as much as possible. That also opened up his long-range game as he went from 33 3-pointers as a junior to 78 this year.
“We have more shooters,’’ said Mahler, who creates his own colorful shoes to wear in games and sell. “This year it’s more a team game.
I looked to drive more last year. I don’t have to now. I’ve always been comfortable shooting from the outside, so no one had to tell me twice to shoot more from out there.’’
The transition was a smooth one for Mahler.
“Grant bought in from day one the way we schedule tougher teams on our schedule,’’ said Maranatha coach Brooks Barnhard, a former player at Escondido. “He’s had to do more this year than last year. Because he’s played at the club level too, he’s played against quality players a lot. “It’s made him a very competitive kid on the floor.’’
Mahler’s plans for next year include finding a college to continue playing basketball where he can major in engineering. He’s not sure if he’s leaning toward mechanical engineering or electrical engineering.
The funniest thing to ever happen to Mahler in a basketball came when he was playing for his travel team, West Coast Elite. On a fast break, he was ahead of the pack waiting for the long pass when he tripped and fell.
“I was open,’’ said Mahler, whose favorite player is Dennis Rodman. “A teammate got the basket, but the whole gym saw me take a dive.’’