NUTLEY, NJ -- After finishing the 2015 -2016 season (19-7, 8-4 SEC) and losing last year’s all-star senior, the Nutley Raiders girl’s basketball team’s young talent will strive for another successful season.
After defeating Cranford 73-67 in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament, the girls fell to West Morris by seven points in the following round.
“Two years ago we won a sectional championship, so we knew we had a lot of kids back from that team, so we expected to do pretty well,” Head Coach Larry Mitschow said in an interview.
Blair Watson scored more than 2,000 points during her four years on the team, recording 641 points, 382 rebounds and 125 assists during her final season. Although Watson graduated and is now playing for the Maryland Terrapins, the Raiders has a team of skilled younger players who will spend more time on the court this season.
“Out of the 28 girls who are playing basketball at Nutley High School, 20 something of them are freshmen or sophomores,” Mitschow told TAPinto Nutley. “It’s a young team, but most of the sophomores have experience, so it’s gonna help us out.”
Among those players are sophomores Courtney Wilde, Rebecca Granata and Alaina Feaster as well as junior Sydney Kunz .
Wilde scored 254 points during her debut season, while Granata added 171 and Feaster contributed 56. Kunz recorded 130 points during her sophomore year.
The three freshmen did not surprise Mitschow at all last season, as he had been watching them play since the sixth grade and knew what they were capable of.
“We knew the talent they had,” Mitschow said. “We expected big things from them right away and they stepped into a tough situation as freshmen, playing in probably the toughest conference in the state of New Jersey as far as girl’s basketball goes.”
Although the four younger girls contributed so many points, the majority of points and rebounds came from Watson.
“Everyone’s gonna have to have a bigger part,” Kunz told TAPinto Nutley. “Blair basically did everything for us.”
Feaster was grateful for the opportunity to work with Watson during her first year on the team.
“That was a great opportunity and it really helped me as a player,” Feaster said.
The loss of a player who scored an average of 24.7 points a game will make it difficult for the Raiders to score high, but Mitschow said improving rebounding and defense can be a major help.
“We got to stretch rebounding and defense this year because I don’t think we have the scoring like we had in the past,” Mitschow told TAPinto Nutley. “We’re probably gonna play a lot of low scoring games.”
As one of the youngest teams in the Super Essex Conference, the team’s goal is to make it the State Tournament during their transition year.
“I think our main goal is gonna be just to make the State Tournament,” Mitschow said. “The last two years our goal was probably to try and win the Sectional Championship.”
However, what is unique about this year is that Mitschow has confidence in more players than usual. His team consists of several talented girls who can all bring something to the team.
“We don’t have to rely on one person all the time,” Mitschow said. “We can spread the ball a little bit. We got a few kids who can score and play defense, we got kids we can take off the bench. We have a little more depth than we’ve ever had in the past.”
Mitschow said the young experienced players may win the team a lot of games and surprise the conference.
“We got a lot of experience even though we’re young, so I think we’re gonna surprise some teams,” Mitschow said.
Feaster added that her and the other girls are going to spend much more time practicing this year, so they can surprise the other teams.
“We’re gonna work really hard and I think we’re gonna upset a lot of teams and people aren’t gonna expect it,” Feaster said.
The Raiders will travel to Livingston Friday to take on the Newark Academy Minutemen in their season opener. The girls will tip off at 4 pm.