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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Alexa Mustafaj ’25 secures her legacy as highest scorer in women’s basketball history

Alexa Mustafaj ‘25 has scored 1628 points over three seasons for the Panthers.
Alexa Mustafaj ‘25 has scored 1628 points over three seasons for the Panthers.

On Saturday, Feb. 17, Alexa Mustafaj ’25 drew a foul from Amherst College’s Maya Cwalina with a minute and 16 seconds remaining in their NESCAC quarterfinal matchup. Mustafaj stepped up to the line, took a deep breath and sank the ensuing free throw. The shot did more than just put the game beyond the Mammoths’ reach. Marking her 1,603rd point, the shot made Mustafaj the highest ever scorer in the 47 year history of Middlebury women’s basketball.

Mustafaj’s record comes after just three seasons with the team, meaning she still has one more year with the Panthers to extend her prolific scoring career. The previous record belonged to Sladja Kovijanic ’93, a Middlebury Hall-of-Famer and the only All-American in program history. Kovijanic even led the nation in points per game her senior year, making Mustafaj’s feat all the more impressive. Following Middlebury’s exit from the NESCAC tournament on Saturday, Feb. 24, Mustafaj now has 1,628 points to her name, putting her on pace to become the first Panther to surpass the 2,000 point mark. To discover how she came to be the star player she is today, I sat down with Alexa to chat about being a record breaker and her love of the game.

Charles Crounse: Congratulations on the new scoring record. Now, the record breaking point you scored came from the free throw line. You had just tied the record. This shot was to break it. Can you walk me through what was going through your head? 

Alexa Mustafaj: Yeah, I knew I was pretty close to that whole game, but I was really trying to just focus on the present and not take my mind away from the game itself. The announcer briefly said I had tied the record after the last free throw. So I knew going in I had two chances to maybe just make one and I ended up doing it. So obviously it was an amazing feeling, and to have all my supporters there, like my coach, family and friends. 

CC: Going back a little bit further coming into the season, you were already ninth in the scoring charts and you had scored over 1000 points. Was the scoring record a goal you had coming into the season or did that just kind of happen by accident? 

AM: I wouldn't be able to do it without my teammates. I was just focusing on making myself a better player, a better teammate. So I really didn't think I would even be close to doing this, or even when I came into Middlebury, I didn’t think I would be playing the way I've been playing. I'm just forever grateful I chose a school like this and have had the support system to make me able to do this. 

CC: We’re going to backtrack here a bit. Going way back, what was it that first drew you to basketball?

AM: I grew up with an older brother and two older cousins on a dead end, and we had a basketball court in the middle of our dead end. I've just grown up playing with the three boys who have pushed me and really made me like the person I am today. 

CC: You play primarily as a shooting guard. Was that a position that you yourself picked, or was that something a coach decided?

AM: Honestly, my role changed coming into Middlebury. All of high school, I was a point guard, so I kind of facilitated the offense more, but coming to Middlebury, I became more of a scoring threat and a scoring factor, and my role changed where I wasn't necessarily the point guard. I play [as a point guard] sometimes here and there, but now I'm more of the shooting guard and the true guard. 

CC: It sounds like you’ve been playing for about as long as you can remember. Did you have any particular role models or players that you grew up watching that you aspired to be like?

AM: Honestly it was mostly about just playing. I definitely looked up to my brother and cousins while playing with them since I was little and how they would not go easy on me but not give up on me either. And so knowing how successful they were because they played college basketball as well, and just knowing that they've supported me all the way and it's just really them who inspired me. 

CC: This season, you and the team won the quarterfinals. You are 17–9 right now. Your first two years here, the team was 12–11 and 15–11, in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Is it fair to say that this has been your strongest season as a Panther? 

AM: Definitely. I think when I came in, obviously it was the year after Covid-19, so with the seniors above me we all came in together. So definitely just developing that chemistry and knowing how to work with them for the past two years has really helped us become such a strong team this year. Obviously we've had some really strong new players come in, but throughout there has been the seniors above me and us seven [upperclassmen] who came in together really working together the past three years. 

CC: You broke the record of Sladja Kovijanic, who is the program’s only All-American player and is in the school’s hall of fame. What has it been like to be compared to her or to be mentioned in the same sentence as her?

AM: I mean, it's just amazing obviously, since what she did here is something you can't even make up. She was a great player here. I don’t feel like I should be compared to her. If anything, I should be looking up to her. I see her name throughout women's basketball and she really made a name for herself here. I'm so grateful that I'm even in a conversation with her. 

CC: So, now you have the school scoring record. It might be a little early to ask this question, but what’s next? Is there another goal you have in mind?

AM: I just really want to win the NESCAC championship. We've never won one in the history of Middlebury women's basketball, so I would say that goal has been bigger than anything I've hit so far. We’re all really focused on that and as a team, we all really want to win, so I’d love to do that while I’m here.

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CC: Is there anything else you want to add that fans of the team may not see during games?

AM: I just feel like we’re such a supportive group of girls that nothing I’ve done or that we’ve done as a team would be possible without us supporting each other on and off the court. That's just always the culture we've had. I feel like it has really helped us succeed this season, and we're just really on our way up right now. We remind each other to work hard and not be complacent, and that’s been a big part of our success. 

Editor’s Note: this interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.


Charles Crounse

Charles Crounse '24 (he/him) is the senior sports editor for the Campus. He has previously worked as a writer and staff editor for the section. Charles is pursuing a major in environmental policy and a minor in French, and in his free time he enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring Vermont. He is also a member of the club soccer team on campus.


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