NUTLEY, NJ -- Unlike most high school basketball teams, the Nutley Raiders girls were led by a group of talented sophomores and one strong freshman this season. Although freshman Abby Sheidel and sophomores Courtney Wilde, Rebecca Granata and Mackenzie Moraski did an outstanding job of leading the team, their shortage of upperclassmen set them back.
Averaging 11.2 points a game and surpassing 500 career points, Wilde led the team’s offense during their (7-19, 3-9 SEC) season. Sheidel – who averaged 14 points a game during her final year of middle school – scored a game-high 16 points in the first contest of her high school career and accumulated 199 points by the end of the season.
“Being a very young team, we had no choice but to be led by our sophomores and freshman,” Raiders Head Coach Larry Mitschow told TAPinto Nutley. “They got to enjoy a lot of valuable playing time that should help us next season.”
Another sophomore leader this season was Rebecca Granata, who accumulated 139 points and surpassed 300 career points.
Spending much more time on the court this season was sophomore Mackenzie Moraski, who nearly quadrupled her previous year’s scoring. She totaled 100 points, which included a career-high 16 points in Nutley’s 46-42 victory over the Shabazz Bulldogs on
Third year starter Sydney Kunz led the girls in rebounding for another year, in addition to recording 77 points.
Showing amazing potential during her freshman season, sophomore Alaina Feaster made a significant improvement towards the end of the season, scoring more than half of her 37 season points in four February games.
“She will be counted on next year for more scoring in the post,” Mitschow said.
Jen Callaghan – the team’s captain and only senior – was a strong defensive player in addition to adding 46 points on offense.
“She was the team's captain on and off the court,” Mitschow said. “The younger players really looked up to Jen. She will be sorely missed.”
Kunz, Callaghan and the group of sophomores had the opportunity to play with Maryland Terrapins freshman guard Blair Watson last year. Watson scored more than 2,000 points during her time at Nutley High School and led the team to a (19-8, 8-4 SEC) season during her final year. Although the six girls learned a great deal from the superstar, playing without her this year has been a struggle.
Another setback for them was their shooting percentage, which led to a lot of low scoring games.
“Our shooting percentage was very low all year, and that hurt us in a lot games,” Mitschow said. “This is something we are going to have to work on in the off season.”
But their biggest strength throughout the season was their chemistry off the court, which they just need to work on translating to the game.
“The most noticeable improvement since the start of the season has been our team chemistry,” Mitschow said. “I loved how all the girls got along off the court, in the locker room and on the bus. Next year, we just have make that chemistry translate more on the court”
After a successful opening night in Livingston -- with an 80-42 victory over the Newark Academy Minutemen – the girls suffered eight straight losses.
As they lagged behind in the conference at (1-8), the Raiders traveled to Newark to take on the then (0-7) Shabazz Bulldogs on January 10. After what became a close game in the second half, Moraski’s best offensive performance gave the Raiders a four-point advantage by the final buzzer.
After such a long losing streak, Moraski knew her team needed to beat the struggling Bulldogs if they wanted a chance at turning the season around.
“We came out and we were really hungry for a win,” Moraski told TAPinto Nutley during a January 10 interview.
After falling in the Newark Academy rematch and the following game against the Montclair Mounties, Wilde and Sheidel dropped ten points a piece on January 21 to achieve a three-point win over the Caldwell Chiefs.
Surprisingly, their next two wins were against top SEC teams – the (19-7, 8-4 SEC) Millburn Millers and (17-8, 12-2 SEC) Belleville Buccaneers, while they lost to teams like Newark Academy (6-18, 3-9 SEC) and the (10-14, 7-5 SEC) Columbia Cougars (Maplewood, NJ).
“The most frustrating aspect of the season was the team's inconsistency,” Mitschow said. “With a younger team, it was probably to be expected.”
After defeating the Bulldogs once again on February 14 by a close six points, the team’s final win came two days later in a non-conference game against the Clifton Mustangs. A combined 29 points from Wilde and Sheidel led the Raiders to a 50-42 victory.
However, the girls lost their final three games, including a tough 54-27 game against the (19-7) Warren Hills Blue Streaks in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament.
The girls will return to the court in December 2017.