By Steve Sears
The Essex County High School Girls Basketball Tournament has in 45 years seen many great players and teams perform on the hardwood and take home championship trophies.
The 2018-19 West Orange Mountaineers can now be added to that list, winning their first title by defeating Montclair’s Immaculate Conception, 36-25. Senior guard Mya Bembry, headed for Penn State in the fall, scored 11 points and snared 11 rebounds, and another guard, freshman Kiley Capstraw, tallied 18 points.
“We knew that Immaculate had 5 girls who were extremely athletic, and we felt we matched up better against them. We both play with 5 guards in a fast pace up and down game. Our plan was to play very solid man to man defense and keep a low scoring game. They have been averaging over 50 points a-game, so we tried to control the game with our defense,” says Caniece Williams, who along with her team saw the strategy work.
In order to advance in the tournament, the 3rd seeded-Mountaineers had to get by a tough East Orange club team in a closely contested quarterfinals matchup, and then defeat 2nd seed University High, 41-29 in the semifinal.
“Playing University,” says Bembry, “taught us how to slow the game down and win by playing defense. Immaculate also plays a zone defense, so we have to be relaxed and we will find the perfect shot.”
Williams, recalling that her team lost in the finals a few years ago, noted a difference this time around. “I think the difference is that we have more experiences as a team and as a coaching staff. We will make sure the mistakes that were made two years ago would not happen again, and because of the past failure that led us to our current success.”
Bembry adds, “We came so close to winning the title two years ago, and ever since then I’ve been hungry to win it. It was something we never did before, and I wanted to make history and make our town proud.”
She also believes the mix of upper and lower classmen on the team aided in the victory and is good for the future. “I think it is amazing to have contribution from all class levels because we have the leadership from the upperclassmen and the underclassmen getting the experience. They need to become leaders one day in the same situation.”
Williams also says that, while Bembry and Capstraw’s significant contributions stood out, others contributed in a huge way as well. “I would like to acknowledge Mackenzie (Dover), Ebony (Odom Barnes), Kaya (Schultz), and Bianca (Fede) for their amazing defensive efforts. A lot of people focus on Kiley and Mya’s ability to score, but without these players taking pride in defense our success wouldn’t be possible. At the end of the day I am a firm believer that defense wins games. Us having the ability to score is just an extra bonus!”