Nutley girls’ basketball team honors Wilde on 1,000th point

The 2018-19 girls’ high school basketball season didn’t exactly tip off the way that Nutley head coach Larry Mitschow had hoped it would begin.

The Maroon Raiders stumbled out of the gate in uncharacteristic form.

“We started out losing our first five games,” said Mitschow, who guided the Maroon Raiders to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship four seasons ago as a No. 15 seed, thanks to the heroics of superstar McDonald’s All-American Blair Watson, now currently lighting it up for nationally ranked Maryland.

“I thought we were playing pretty well, but our shooting was just horrible,” Mitschow said. “We seriously were shooting about 10 percent at best. We could not make shots. We couldn’t buy a basket. We were scoring in the 20s or 30s every game.”
And in Watson’s heyday, the Maroon Raiders would score 20 or 30 as soon as Watson stepped on the court. And that’s no joke. Watson was a prolific scorer, the best to ever grace the hardwood at Nutley, scoring more than 2,100 points during her brilliant career.

The Maroon Raiders couldn’t still be suffering from a Watson hangover, considering she graduated from the school and the program in 2015. It’s a whole new team, new ball of wax.

But an 0-5 start? That’s a tough hole to crawl back out of.

To their credit, the Maroon Raiders didn’t pack it in. They’ve played hard every game and now own a 6-10 record, especially after defeating Clifton last Saturday, 49-25. It remains to be seen whether the Maroon Raiders will recover enough to make the NJSIAA state playoffs, but they are certainly better than what they were to start the season.

“I’m happy,” Mitschow said. “The effort has been there every single game. Every team we’ve played this season has had a winning record, so the competition has been very tough. I don’t think you can judge us by our record. I think once the ball started going in the basket, we were a better team. Everyone looks better when you’re making shots, including me.”

Perhaps the player that is looking the best these days for the Maroon Raiders is senior forward Courtney Wilde.

Wilde, who has already signed a national letter of intent to play softball at Rutgers, is showing everyone just how good of a basketball player she is as well.

On Saturday, Wilde tossed in a game-high 22 points, which almost matched the entire team total for rival Clifton.

But in the game, Wilde eclipsed the prestigious 1,000-point plateau for her career, becoming only the fifth girls’ basketball player in Nutley history to reach the milestone.

It’s quite an accomplishment for someone who basically has to treat the sport of basketball like the wicked stepsister.

“She’s really starting to heat up a little bit,” Mitschow said of Wilde, who has now reached double figures in scoring for five straight games.

The 5-foot-8 Wilde also scored 19 against Montclair, 18 in games against Payne Tech and University and 14 against Newark Tech. Wilde is now averaging almost 12 points per game, which is a remarkable comeback after a sluggish start.

“She works so hard,” Mitschow said. “She does so many things for us. She gets rebounds, steals, assists. She just plays so hard. She really has been awesome for us with all she does for us. She’s a great kid with a great sense of humor.”

Junior point guard Abby Scheidel is another key contributor to the Maroon Raiders. The 5-foot-5 Scheidel is averaging 11.1 points per game and five assists per contest. Scheidel had 15 points in the win over Clifton Saturday.

“She controls the game,” Mitschow said. “She runs the plays. She provides things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. She’s a great leader for us out there. She’s also our best 3-point shooter.”

In terms of bizarre statistics, Scheidel has almost as many 3-pointers made (28) as she has regular field goals (32) and free throws (30).

“Everything we do runs through her,” Mitschow said.

Senior Alaina Feaster, a 5-foot-11 forward, is also headed to Rutgers on a scholarship in the fall, but her specialty is crew. But in the winter months, while the Passaic River is just about frozen solid, Feaster is on the hardwood, collecting her share of rebounds for the Maroon Raiders.

“She scores a few points, grabs some rebounds, blocks a few shots,” Mitschow said. “She’s our leading rebounder. She is definitely a presence close to the basket. She’s learned to block shots regularly, so that’s been a big help.”

Senior Rebecca Granata is a 5-foot-9 forward who averages five points per contest.

“She’s been a four-year starter for us,” Mitschow said of Granata, who joins Wilde as being four-year members of the Maroon Raiders’ starting lineup. “She does a good job getting rebounds for us.”

Jaden Long is a 5-foot-6 junior forward who has been working her way into the starting lineup in recent weeks.

Junior Sofia Lamond is also a 5-foot-6 forward who is battling for playing time.

“She’s been doing some nice things in practice, which leads to playing time,” Mitschow said.

Mitschow has been impressed with the contributions of two freshmen, namely 5-foot-5 shooting guard Mackenzie Albert and 5-foot-7 forward Stephanie Luberto, the younger sister of baseball pitcher John Luberto, who is also headed to the Banks of the Old Raritan and Rutgers in the fall.

“I like both of them moving forward,” Mitschow said. “We’re getting them into the rotation now on the varsity level to get a chance to see what they can do.”

One thing is for certain with the Maroon Raiders: There is no set starting lineup.

“We’ve used about seven or eight different starting lineups this year,” Mitschow said. “We’re still trying to find a regular rotation, trying to get some sort of rhythm. If you show up to practice and play hard in practice, you just may get a chance to play in the games.”

Needless to say, Mitschow is hoping for some late season magic out of the Maroon Raiders.

“I think this is all setting us up well for the state tournament, Mitschow said. “We had some tough losses against some very good teams like West Orange, Newark Tech and Arts. But I think we’re coming around a little.”

The Maroon Raiders need to find a little lightning in the bottle over the next few weeks to come away with a state tournament berth. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”