The Nutley High School girls’ basketball team had a wonderful season a year ago, winning 19 games and in the process, captured the championship of the Super Essex Conference’s Liberty Division.
The season was perhaps unexpected, but veteran coach Larry Mitschow has worked wonders before in his nine years with the Maroon Raiders, leading the team to heights that were almost Cinderella-esque in stature.
Now, the Maroon Raiders have to carry on without two major cogs, one of whom was one of the best players in Nutley girls’ basketball history.
Abby Scheidel was outstanding in every facet of the game. She averaged 19 points per game, earning All-State Group III and All-Super Essex Conference honors. Scheidel has taken her talents to Muhlenberg University and will play there when the school’s season returns.
The team also lost rebounding machine Jaden Long, who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game and had an absolute explosion of high scoring games toward the end of the season. Both Scheidel and Long were named Observer Athletes of the Week last season.
Because of the Raiders’ success last season, they have been placed in the American Division of the SEC, faving the likes of University of Newark, East Orange, West Orange, Newark Tech and Montclair Immaculate.
So it’s a little bit of a rebuilding season for Mitschow and the Raiders and one that will now be delayed in starting due to a COVID-19 shutdown and quarantine for the time being.
Mitschow doesn’t like the term “rebuilding.”
“It’s going to be quite a challenge,” Mitschow said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult facing each of those teams twice. It’s going to be extremely difficult for our young team. We don’t like to call any year a rebuilding year. But after the season we had a year ago and the key players we lost, we may have to alter our team goals just a bit.”
So Mitschow told the Maroon Raiders to concentrate on the little things.
“I told the girls from Day One to let’s improve as a team and individually as much as possible,” Mitschow said. “I told them to build team chemistry and maybe pull off a couple of upsets along the way.”
Leading the returnees is junior guard Mackenzie Albert. While Albert is known better for her immense soccer skills, Albert is an excellent basketball player as well.
“She is super fast off the dribble and gets to the basket really well,” Mitschow said. “She’s also our best defender. She started every game last year.”
Another key returnee is Liana Minchini, who is a sophomore guard.
“She’s our best 3-point shooter,” Mitschow said. “We need her to score a lot more this year. She also started every game last year.”
Junior Stephanie Luberto and junior Alex Twomey also return from last year.
“They were role players who have to step up this year,” Mitschow said. “They will have more important roles this season.”
Junior Nicole Cicchetti and sophomore Megan Riccardi were also on the team last season, but saw limited minutes.
“They’re looking to crack the starting rotation this season or play key roles coming off the bench,” Mitschow said.
Mitschow said that only 16 girls came out for basketball, eight of whom are freshmen.
“We’re very excited from what we have seen from the freshmen so far,” Mitschow said. “I expect a few of them to play varsity minutes this season.”
So it’s time to play another season once the quarantine is lifted.
“The players and coaches are pumped to be back in the gym,” Mitschow said. “With everything that is going on in the world right now, we’re just happy to be having another season and can’t wait for the opening tip of Nutley basketball.”
Whenever that tip will be held still remains to be seen.
Nutley sophomore guard Liana Minchini. Photo by Jim Hague
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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.”