NUTLEY – Blair Watson is not just one of the top players in the state.
The senior guard is one of the best players in the nation.
Led by Watson, the Nutley High School girls’ varsity basketball team hopes to have another successful season.
The Raiders, who won the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 tournament title behind Watson, will open the season Friday, Dec. 18, at Newark Weequahic in a Super Essex Conference-American Division game at 4 p.m. NHS will then host Montclair on Dec. 22 in a divisional game at 7 p.m.
Watson, who last month signed a National Letter of Intent with nationally-ranked University of Maryland, averaged 23 points a game last season in helping the Raiders to a 17-14 record. The 6-foot Watson is ranked No. 28 overall in the nation, according to HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings.
Watson, indeed, has an unstoppable approach.
“She can rebound, block shots, make steals, shoot from long range, get other players involved, and get to the basket to score,” said fourth-year head coach Larry Mitschow, a NHS alum.
Watson enters the season with 1,486 points. Barring injury, she is poised to become the first NHS basketball player, boy or girl, to score 2,000 career points.
The state sectional title was the first for the Raiders since 1977. As a sophomore, Watson also helped the Raiders to the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 championship game, but the Raiders lost to West Morris.
The Raiders lost just two key players, Carly Anderson and Carly Grueter, to graduation. Along with Watson, the Raiders return junior guard Jen Callaghan and sophomore forward Sydney Kunz.
Senior forward Emily Holden is a key newcomer.
The Raiders have a strong freshman group that will look to contribute. They include guards Courtney Wilde, Rebecca Granata and Gianna Joyce, and forwards Alaina Feaster and Mackenzie Moraski.
Mitschow expects Wilde and Granata to contribute offensively.
“Both can shoot the 3 and go strong to the basket,” he said.
Kunz and Callaghan will look to defend the opposing team’s best players and shut them down, Mitschow said.
Mitschow has been pleased with his team’s efforts during the preseason.
“I would have to say we have been playing very unselfishly on offense,” he said. “We have been making the extra pass when needed.”
The Raiders need to improve on boxing out and rebounding, Mitschow noted.
The team hopes to be competitive in the conference and the county. But more important, the Raiders hope to enter the state tournament with a decent seeding as they defend their sectional championship.
Team chemistry will be a key to achieving their goals.
“In order to achieve our goals, we are going to have to form team chemistry, like we did last year,” Mitschow said. “We have a mix of all grade levels on this team, so it may take some time for them to gel. Also, we are going to have to win the games we are supposed to win.
“I am very excited about the team I have this year,” added Mitschow. “I think we can be stronger than we were last year. We would love to see people in the stands for our games this season. I think it’s going to be another exciting year. And if you haven’t seen Blair Watson play yet for NHS, make sure you make a game or two this year. She is something else!”
Prior to taking over the helm, Mitschow was the NHS boys’ freshman basketball coach for 14 years. His assistant coaches are Matt Francello, Ashlee Mustardo and Ashley Thunell. Francello also is in his fourth year with the staff. Mustardo was the NHS girls’ freshman coach last year. The NHS program dropped its freshman team this year. Thunell, a volunteer assistant coach, is in her second year on the staff. Francello, Mustardo and Thunell also are all NHS alums.