By Josh Lashley
Before the month of February was even complete, the West Orange High School girls’ basketball program had accomplished milestones that will place them definitively and securely in the record books at the Essex County school.
The Mountaineers won the Super Essex County (SEC) Liberty Division and advanced all the way to the finals of the very challenging Essex County Tournament as the no. three seed where it lost a very close 55-53 game to an outstanding Newark Tech squad.
The Mountaineers defeated 14th seeded Arts, 61-42 on Feb. 14; sixth seeded Montclair, 45-42 on Feb. 18; and second seeded University, 46-29 on Feb. 22, to advance to the championship round of the Essex County Tournament.
Achieving such feats were not at all easy, but through hard work, a sense of pride and responsibility not only to themselves, but to their teammates and coaches alike, the Mountaineers are champions.
“We have already secured the conference, so for the first time in history we are conference champions,’’ West Orange Head Coach Caniece Williams said. “I would also like to win an Essex County Championship this year, they fell just short of that goal, and we have secured the second seed in the NJSIAA North One Group Four Sectional Tournament so the goal is to bring home a Sectional Championship as well.
“The team has really come together and locked down on defense,” he said. “Our opponents are averaging less than 40 points per game while we are averaging over 50. We have also started to consistently compete in practice which helps us play harder in games.’’
There have been, without a doubt, several student-athletes who contributed mightily toward the success of West Orange this winter and Williams mentioned one player who truly stands out as a leader both in athletics and in the classroom.
“Jewel Burnett is a four year varsity player and has done a great job on and off the court,’’ Williams said. “Jewel has a 3.6 GPA so academically she has shown the girls how important it is to put school first. On the court she has been a great leader, leading the team with seven assists per game and is completely the floor general.’’
Williams also noted a student-athlete who was among those who improve steadily and noticeably from day one of practice forward.
“Mya Bembry has really come into herself this season averaging 18 points a game and six steals as a sophomore,’’ Williams said. “She started off slow but her shot has come around and she really has started to attack the basket with much more confidence.’’
West Orange began play in the North One Group Four Sectional Tournament with a victory over Bergen Tech.
“I would like the team to much a better job with boxing out and stop allowing teams to get second and third chances offensively,’’ Williams said. “They also could communicate more on the court so they are all on the same page.’’
At the time of the deadline for this story, West Orange was still competing in North One Group Four Sectional Tournament.