Lyndhurst girls continue to improve

Photo by Jim Hague The Lyndhurst High School girls’ basketball team will look to seniors Joanne Arvanitakis (l.) and Cameron Halpern (r.), with head coach John Cousins (c.) to lead the way this season.
Photo by Jim Hague
The Lyndhurst High School girls’ basketball team will look to seniors Joanne
Arvanitakis (l.) and Cameron Halpern (r.), with head coach John Cousins (c.) to
lead the way this season.

When John Cousins took over the girls’ basketball program at Lyndhurst High School three years ago, the program was already bereft of talent.

But Cousins was dedicated to the program and knew that the team could improve.

The Golden Bears went 6-17 last year – and that was bordering on miraculous. Cousins got his team to actually win six games. They were one of the most overachieving teams in the North Jersey Interscholastic League-Liberty Division.

Although the Golden Bears have started off the new season with losses to New Milford and St. Mary’s of Rutherford, Cousins remains optimistic that his team will be vastly improved this season.

“We learned a lot about our team together this weekend,” Cousins said. “We worked through adversity and managed to survive.”

The team was without starting point guard Grace Cappiello against St. Mary’s. Cappiello had a family engagement to attend.

“With Grace not there, it was tough, but we competed,” Cousins said. “They worked their tails off and got a little better. If they keep improving every game, then that’s a good sign.”

The Golden Bears have four starters returning from last year’s team. The girls worked together all summer and fall to get ready for this season.

“We knew that we had a good group coming back and we relied upon them in the summer,” said Cousins, who entered his team in summer and fall leagues. “It was a huge boost for our team. They all managed to play as a group during the summer and fall. It meant a lot. It also meant that we’re not introducing a bunch of new things. The girls all know what’s expected of them and that has made things easier. We’re not opening up the book at page one. We’re like at the third chapter already.”

Cousins said that he’s more comfortable as the head coach in his third year.

“The more you get to know people, the better the relationships are,” Cousins said. “Our relationships have developed over the last three years. It’s a very good thing.”

Cousins realizes that the Golden Bears will only go as far as the 5-foot-3 Cappiello takes them.

“Last year, she fractured her elbow in the first game of the season and was out for 10 weeks,” Cousins said. “She missed almost the entire season with the injury. She’s learning a lot on the job.”

Senior Joanne Arvanitakis is a 5-foot-3 shooting guard.

“She plays hard defense all the time and she’s a good 3-point shooter,” Cousins said. “She’s one of our senior leaders. She’s also been through four years of success with the soccer team and coach (Kim) Hykey. I think Joanne can bring that success from soccer to basketball. Her leadership is also big for us.”

Sophomore Mackenzie McMillan is the team’s other guard.

“She’s a tremendous athlete,” Cousins said of McMillan. “She brings toughness and athleticism to our team. She’s unwilling to quit. She defends like crazy. She forces turnovers. She gets steals. She just works so hard.”

Junior Kira Adams is a 6-foot power forward who could develop into a fine player for the Golden Bears.

“She’s trying,” Cousins said. “We have a lot more patience with her. She’s really helping us with rebounds and taking up space on defense. She definitely will help us. I can see her getting 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.”

Cameron Halpern is a 5-foot-9 swing player who will see time at both forward and guard.

“She’s a good athlete,” Cousins said of Halpern, who also played volleyball in the fall along with Adams. “We have a very athletic team.”

Halpern can also score. She was the team’s leading scorer in each of the first two games, getting 16 points against New Milford and 13 versus St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

“She’s able to score from both inside and outside,” Cousins said. “She’s capable of scoring from all over and she’s a big threat with the dribble/drive.”

Alyssa Mezzina is a 5-foot- 7 junior who can play both forward positions.

“She’s a very smart player and has a great basketball IQ ,” Cousins said. “She knows how to position herself well.”

Junior Uxia Parrada (first name is pronounced YOUCHEE- A) is a 5-foot-8 forward with a nice shooting touch.

Freshman Angela Downey is a 5-foot-6 guard who feels more comfortable with the ball in her hands.

“She has a very bright future,” Cousins said of Downey. “She has a good nose for the ball and goes after the ball.”

However, Downey is still recovering after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year as an eighth grader.

The Golden Bears were scheduled to face Secaucus on Tuesday and will then play in the Bill Ferguson North Arlington Holiday Tournament next week.

Cousins is keeping that optimistic approach.

“We’re totally going to improve this season,” Cousins said. “As the season goes on, we’ll get better and better. We’ll start to develop more in January and February. The early season stuff has been tough, but once we get into January and February, we’re going to be okay. I know that they’ll come around a bit.”

The Golden Bears are already showing signs of improvement, thanks to the tireless coaching of Cousins. So there has to be hope for the future.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”