West Orange HS girls’ basketball team enjoys historic season

Mountaineers win first-ever section championship during 22-8 campaign


Photo courtesy of Cynthia Cumming
The West Orange High School girls’ basketball team, joined by coaches, administrators and mascot, poses after winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 state tournament championship. Standing second from left is head coach Caniece Williams.

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Blessed with a strong returning nucleus that keyed a stellar 2016-17 season, the West Orange High School girls’ varsity basketball team had many goals this season. Of course, one of them was to win the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 state tournament for the first time in program history.

Thanks to their strong determination and perseverance, the Mountaineers accomplished that objective.

Though they fell short in the NJSIAA Group 4 state semifinal with a loss to defending champion Franklin, the Mountaineers certainly will savor this season for a long time. West Orange finished the campaign with an impressive 22-8 record.

For the third straight game in the section tournament, the ninth-seeded Mountaineers pulled off a win in thrilling fashion as they rallied to beat 11th-seeded Hackensack, 56-50, in the championship game at home on March 6.

Junior guard Mya Bembry again proved unstoppable, scoring 28 points to lead the Mountaineers.

Trailing 31-29 at the half, the Mountaineers outscored Hackensack, 17-8, in the third quarter and held on to win the section championship.

Head coach Caniece Williams, indeed, was elated for her team.

“I am so proud of the girls,” said Williams after the game. “They really came together and wanted this as a team. I was fortunate enough to experience this accomplishment as a player in Montclair and I am so thrilled to be a part of history in the town of West Orange. I am so appreciative of an amazing coaching staff who is dedicated to working endless hours to make sure we are prepared for each and every game. I don’t want to single out any player because all 16 girls are absolutely amazing, and without each and everyone of them coming to practice and working hard, we wouldn’t be where we are today! I love my team!”

Senior guard Nahtali Simpson had 12 points; junior guard Bianca Fede had seven points; senior forward Aliya Perkins had three points and freshman guard Mackenzie Dover, senior forward Madison Mitchell, and sophomore guard Davionna Phillips each had two points for the Mountaineers. Senior forward Cassidy Ferrell, junior guard Kaija Jones, and freshman guard Kaya Schultz also saw action in the game for WOHS.

In the quarterfinals, the Mountaineers upset top-seeded and defending champion Morristown, 46-45, on Bembry’s late throw. WOHS then defeated fifth-seeded Ridgewood in three overtimes in the semifinals. 67-59.

Following the section final, the Mountaineers set their sights on winning it all. But those hopes were dashed as they lost to Franklin, 74-54, Friday, March 9, at Union High School. Franklin extended a 20-15 lead at the end of the first quarter with a 20-7 second quarter for a 40-22 halftime lead.

Bembry had game-highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds. Fede had five points, four rebounds and five assists; Simpson had five points and four rebounds; Perkins collected four points and six rebounds; Phillips and Schultz each scored four; Jones added two points and two steals; senior guard  Shayna Fortfoskey and Dover each chipped in two points; and Ferrell pulled down three boards. Sophomore guard Natalie Nevins, who is a soccer phenom, also played in the game.

Last season, the Mountaineers lost in the North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 semifinals to East Orange Campus, after losing in overtime to Newark Tech in the Essex County Tournament final in their first-ever ECT final appearance. Bembry, Mitchell, Ferrell, Simpson, Perkins, Fortfoskey, Phillips and Nevins al played last season. WOHS this season lost to Newark Tech in the ECT semifinals.