The Nutley High School girls’ basketball team hasn’t played a game in almost two full weeks, but the omicron-forced layoff isn’t about to dampen the spirits of veteran head coach Larry Mitschow.
The Maroon Raiders own a 2-3 record, but finished second to Indian Hills in the tough William Masopust, Jr. Memorial Holiday Tournament at Lodi, having defeated local rival Lyndhurst and host Lodi in the tourney.
“We were lucky enough to play in the Lyndhurst summer league,” Mitschow said. “We had about 12 or 13 girls there for every game. So I had high expectations coming into the season. We struggled last year with the schedule. It was tough. But we knew it was going to be a little rough for us. So we had no goal to set. We didn’t focus on our record. We just went through some growing pains. I knew we were going to be more competitive this year.”
Mitschow said that he has liked what he’s seen thus far.
“We went to the finals of a good tournament,” Mitschow said. “The effort was there. If we play like we did in this tournament, we should be okay.”
But the shutdown to the COVID-19 strain didn’t exactly come at an opportune time.
“It was really frustrating,” Mitschow said. “We got shut down without warning. I was surprised and aggravated. We needed to be in school and playing basketball. The kids wanted to get back in the gym right away. I understand what the district was trying to do, but we needed to be playing.”
Mitschow said that the Maroon Raiders are ready to come back to action this week. They were slated to face neighboring rival Belleville Tuesday.
“I would go without practice if we had to,” Mitschow said. “I’m crossing my fingers with Belleville. We haven’t faced them in quite a while. I want to be able to get that rivalry going again.”
Leading the returnees is senior 5-foot-4 guard Mackenzie Albert, the soccer star who has already declared her intentions to play soccer at Iona College next fall.
“She handles the point for us,” Mitschow said. “She’s a three-year starter. She handles the ball well and doesn’t turn it over. We just have to get her scoring again.”
Senior 5-foot-5 guard Alex Twomey is the Maroon Raiders’ leading scorer in the early going.
“She’s another three-year starter who I expected to have a bigger role this season,” Mitschow said. “She carried us against Lyndhurst and had 17 points. She put her time in to get better. It’s her time to lead us.”
Twomey is strictly a basketball player, while others play multiple sports at Nutley.
“She’s a basketball kid,” Mitschow said.
Senior Stephanie Luberto is a 5-foot-6 post player.
“She plays center for us,” Mitschow said. “She throws her body around and gets rebounds. And she can rebound well. She also plays good post defense. We’re working on her offensive moves close to the basket.”
Sophomore Anna Green has been a pleasant surprise. The 5-foot-3 Green has been playing both guard slots.
“She had a great summer,” Mitschow said. “I knew she could score for us. She’s a good 3-point threat. She works very hard in practice and wants to get better. I’m expecting her to score.”
Freshman Grace Christie is a 5-foot-5 small forward.
“She has a nice skill set,” Mitschow said. “She’s battling for a spot with the starters. I rotate the kids depending on how they practice. She has a nice shot.”
Riley Sebastiano is a 5-foot-3 sophomore guard who started all of the games in the Lodi tournament.
“She’s going to be a key player for us,” Mitschow said.
Sophomore Mina Shaw is a 5-foot-6 forward.
“She’s an inside player,” Mitschow said. “I expect her to play a bigger role moving forward.”
Megan Ricciardi is a 5-foot-9 junior center.
“She came off the bench last year,” Mitschow said. “She’s a good post player who rebounds well.”
So needless to say, the Maroon Raiders will be vastly improved over last year.
“I expect us to be competitive,” Mitschow said. “I think we can upset a team here and there. I think we’ll win the games we’re supposed to win and sneak a win here and there. And then I think we’ll do well when the postseason (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III) begins. We’re going to be competitive. Last year was rough, but I was realistic, because we were young.”
Mitschow can’t wait to get back into the gym.
“We have 14 kids in our program,” Mitschow said. “And they all want to listen and learn. They all get along together well. Of the 14, 10 are either sophomores or freshmen. They’re a fun group to be around and a fun group to coach.”
The Nutley girls’ basketball team finished second in the recent William Masopust, Jr. Memorial Lodi Holiday Tournament. Front row, from left, are Riley Sebastiano, Alex Twomey, Anna Green and Mackenzie Albert. Back row, from left, are Mina Shaw, Stephanie Luberto, Morgan Dolaghan and Grace Christie. Far back row is head coach Larry Mitschow. Photo courtesy of Larry Mitschow.
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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.”