Nutley girls’ basketball team enjoying successful season

Photo by Jim Hague/ The Nutley girls’ basketball team has won 17 games this season, thanks to the efforts of seniors Eileen Purcell, head coach Dana Wynne, Jaimie Towey and Tonianne DeMatteo.


By Jim Hague

When Dana Wynne was hired as the girls’ basketball coach at Nutley High School three years ago, she came with an impeccable resume.

After all, Wynne is one of the greatest players in the history of the Seton Hall University women’s program, having scored 1,622 points and collected 1,265 rebounds, both totals among the highest in the school’s history. Wynne led the nation in rebounding her senior year of 1996, which led to her becoming a player for the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA as well as a pro career in Greece.

When Wynne’s playing days were over, she returned to her alma mater and served as an assistant coach at Seton Hall for four seasons.

So when the job opened at Nutley and Wynne was interested, it was a no-brainer to secure Wynne’s services.

During the first couple of years, the Maroon Raiders had to become accustomed somewhat to Wynne’s philosophy _ a lot of it coming from Wynne’s college coach, Phyllis Mangina.

“Most definitely, a lot of what we do is based on what we did at Seton Hall,” Wynne said. “It’s something that I understand and our players understand.”

The Maroon Raiders were 13-14 last year, but Wynne knew that she had a veteran team returning this season.

“We had five seniors coming back,” Wynne said. “We had very good senior leadership. I thought that we would be able to do better than we did last year, because of the seniors.”

Three of the seniors have emerged as big time performers for Wynne and they are the main reason why the Maroon Raiders are one of the most improved teams in the Super Essex Conference.

The Maroon Raiders own a 17-6 record, after toppling Belleville, 61-42, last Friday night. They have had their share of big wins this season, including a two-point thrilling win over Kearny.

Wynne knows that the three senior leaders deserve a lot of the credit.

“Those three put the team on their backs and they’ve carried us,” Wynne said. “They’re making big shots, big plays. I think that’s what comes with senior leadership.”

So much so that Wynne had high expectations for the season, setting lofty goals that no one outside of Wynne and her players thought were possible.

“I really thought our goal this year was to win 20 games,” Wynne said. “We had 13 last year, but we had so much senior leadership that we had to win more this year. We won some big games, games that we probably would have lost last year. But we have the leaders. We play as a team and it shows.”

Leading the way has been senior forward Jaimie Towey. The 5-foot-9 Towey, a standout pitcher on the softball team and a solid soccer player in the fall, has really improved her basketball skills this season, averaging nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“She’s become a solid post player,” Wynne said of Towey. “She’s worked very hard on her turnaround jump shot. She worked hard on a lot of things over the summer and came back very focused. She’s taken a big step up and become more offensive oriented. She’s also able to read the double team and get the ball to her teammates. She’s really having a great season.”

Another key performer is senior point guard Eileen Purcell, who like Towey, also plays soccer in the fall and softball in the spring. The 5-foot-6 Purcell is averaging close to eight points and eight assists per game.

“She sees the floor very well,” Wynne said. “She’s shooting the ball more and that’s what we wanted. We’re trying to get her to score more. She’s reading defenses well and gets the ball to her teammates. I think her ability in the other sports helps her for basketball. It gives her a sense of calmness when she plays.”

The third senior leader is shooting guard Tonianne DeMatteo. The 5-foot-6 DeMatteo has reached double figures in scoring in each of the last 13 games, including a 27-point performance against Woodbridge and a 25-point outing against Newark Academy.

“She has good range and is a good 3-point shooter,” Wynne said. “She’s also a great transition player. She also plays the opposing team’s better player.”

There aren’t many teams that have a post player, a point guard and a shooting guard like the trio of talented young ladies on the Nutley roster.

Senior Shannon Reid is a 5-foot-8 forward and senior Adriana Luzzi is a 5-foot-6 swing player, who could play the point, the shooting guard or the small forward positions.

Jasmine Small is a junior guard who can fill the role of both guard slots and has become the Raiders’ defensive stopper of late.

Sophomore Grace Montgomery has seen a lot of time as a sophomore. She also can play three positions.

“She’s a versatile player,” Wynne said. “I like having players who are interchangeable and can do a lot of things. That’s how we usually play.”

Junior Sarah Montes, the Raiders’ tallest player at 6-foot even, is a fine rebounder who gives depth up front.

So no one would have believed it, but Wynne’s goal may indeed become reality. The Maroon Raiders have two regular season games remaining against Newark East Side and Newark West Side and drew a home game in the opening round of the upcoming NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs against Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

“Just getting a home game in the state playoffs is an achievement,” Wynne said.

Sure is,  because the Maroon Raiders haven’t hosted a state playoff game in recent years. It’s been a fine season this year for the Nutley girls’ basketball team.

“I always thought that this team would do well,” Wynne said. “I always had expectations. We’re all very excited about this team. They’ve done everything that has been asked of them.”

Everything and then some – which includes winning. It’s definitely been a season to remember.

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