Makayla David’s state tournament opener is one for the record books

For Makayla David, feeling nerves on the day of a game is nothing new, but on Wednesday morning, hours before Kearny’s state tournament opener, those feelings were especially strong for the freshman guard.

“I was nervous the whole entire day,” said David. “I could not eat. I had to force myself to eat. I was just so nervous. I kept telling everyone I was so nervous, but I knew it was a big game and I couldn’t let the nerves get to me.

“I always get nerves, but this type of nerves was different from the usual nerves I get before games.”

It turned out the nerves weren’t the only thing different about this day for David, because once the whistle blew and the game got underway, she delivered one of the finest performances any Kardinal has had in recent memory.

David went on to set a school record with seven 3-pointers in a game as she went on to score a career-high 30 points as Kearny rolled to a 73-45 victory over Fair Lawn in the first round of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 tournament.

The record-breaking performance makes David The Observer Athlete of the Week.

Those pregame nerves turned into postgame shock when David found out just what she had accomplished.

“My coaches told me in the locker room right after the game and I was so surprised,” David said. “I was like ‘what? I scored 30 points?’ I knew I scored a lot, but not 30 points.”

The 30 points were the most scored by an Observer-area girls basketball player this season and the most in a state tournament game by a Kearny player since Sam Osorio scored 33 in 2020. The previous Kearny record was 3-pointers in a game was six by Meagan McClelland and Janitza Aquino.

“I remember the day before the game, she was jumping up and down. You could tell she was super excited. She just kept saying ‘I can’t wait for the state playoffs,” head coach Jody Hill said. “She mentioned she was feeling a little extra nervous and I tried to tell her, once the tipoff comes and you step foot on the court, all the nerves just going to go away. Just go out and play basketball just like any other game. Go out and do your thing.”

David actually missed her first two 3-point attempts for the game, so when her third attempt – an open shot from the top of the key – went in, she felt a sense of relief.

“She had great energy from start to finish,” said Hill. “She just went out, played her game, and got a career-high 30 points and set the 3-point record. It was just tremendous, a great start for her and the right way to start off the playoffs.”

David said she tries to model her game after three of the game’s greatest shooters – Stephen Curry, Caitlin Clark and Sabrina Ionescu. She’s also been able to train with Hall of Famer and Nutley resident Carol Balzejowski.

And like those four, David has shown the ability to take over from the outside.

In her first varsity game, David made four 3-pointers against St. Dominic. In February, she’s hit an eye-opening 31 3-pointers in the last night game to smash the previous single-season 3-point record of 53 by Ava Hyams.

“My shooting has really improved,” said David, who felt she had a good idea of what to expect this winter after playing varsity soccer in the fall. “I worked on my shooting for a whole year in eighth grade and I didn’t know how good of a shooter I was going to be and now it’s really showing.”

The instant impact of David, who has 64 3-pointers and is averaging 12.3 points per game is unsurprising to Hill.

“She proved to us that she deserved to be in the starting lineup (right away) and I don’t ever want her to second guess her ability to take over a game or have the green light to shoot every time she’s open,” Hill said. “She pretty much came in already with that sense of confidence and shooting ability.”

Kearny, seeded seventh in North 1, Group 4, looked to keep its season going on Monday night with a quarterfinal contest at second-seeded Morristown. Like she does most games, David is sure to feel some pregame jitters. But with the way she’s been shooting of late, maybe it will be the Colonials feeling nerves as they try to avoid the upset.

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)