By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Larry Mitschow knew the talent of the Nutley High School girls’ basketball team, having coached the Maroon Raiders to a 15-7 record, after having coached the freshman boys’ squad at the school for 14 years.
“I love coaching basketball,” Mitschow said. “I knew that the girls had a chance to play for something at the end of the season, meaning the league and county playoffs. I finally got the opportunity to coach a varsity team. Playing for something worthwhile at the end of the season really makes it much more exciting.”
Mitschow, a Nutley native who graduated from Nutley High, had a sense that the Maroon Raiders would be improved this year.
“I knew we had a couple of kids back,” Mitschow said. “Last year, there was an adjustment period, me getting used to the girls and the girls getting used to me. But coming into this year, the pieces were all in place.”
The Maroon Raiders held their own during the Paterson Kennedy summer league, one of the most competitive girls’ basketball leagues in the state.
“I wanted to challenge the kids and learn from what they did over the summer,” Mitschow said.
The Maroon Raiders were more than competitive this season, posting a brilliant 23-4 record and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship game last week, before falling to West Morris in the sectional final.
Mitschow liked his team’s chances going into the title game.
“We were very loose on the bus,” Mitschow said. “The kids were singing songs and laughing the whole way.”
The Wolfpack fell behind early, trailing by 10 in the second quarter.
“But to our girls’ credit, they handled everything really well,” Mitschow said.
Led by sophomore center Blair Watson, the Maroon Raiders got hot in the third quarter. Watson had a season-high 39 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and collected 10 blocked shots. Watson also had six steals.
The 6-foot-1 Watson is already drawing looks from major colleges.
“She’s the real deal,” Mitschow said. “She has a ton of Division I offers. She averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Blair really improved and matured as a person. She’s just awesome. She definitely saved her best game for the right time. She put us on her shoulders and carried us.”
The Montgomery twins, Grace and Meghan, were both key players for the Maroon Raiders.
“Grace handles the ball more and she’s more in control with the ball,” Mitschow said. “Meghan is more of a spot-up shooter.”
Between the two, Mitschow received approximately 17 points per game. That’s good complimentary numbers to Watson.
Junior Carly Anderson is an athletic player who can play any position.
“She contributes a lot to our offense,” Mitschow said.
Anderson will contribute a lot more in a few weeks, as the top returning starting pitcher for the Maroon Raiders’ softball team.
Senior forward Julia Seremba has improved tremendously down the stretch, scoring big points and collecting big rebounds.
Cara Michaels is a 5-foot-5 senior who also plays a multitude of roles for the Maroon Raiders.
“Cara knows her role and comes in at practically every position. She’s a quiet leader off the court.”
And that’s it. Mitschow only used six players on a regular basis.
“It really doesn’t affect us,” Mitschow said. “If you think of it, we outscored our opponents in the second half when we should be tired. We’re in great shape with our conditioning. We have high intensity practices. There isn’t much standing around. We don’t have a lot of down time. They all worked very hard.”
The Raiders dropped the state sectional title game last week, ending their season with an impressive 23-4 record. The four losses came to West Morris, Weequahic and Newark Academy, all teams that went on to win their state sectional. We played some solid teams. We took care of business when we had to.”
A lot of people might be shocked with Nutley’s impressive 23-4 record. One who is not surprised at all is the head coach.
“I really expected this team to compete for the county, the league and the states,” Mitschow said. “We were right there.”