Lyndhurst’s Arvanitakis shoots her way to record book in final games

When Joanne Arvanitakis first tried out for the Lyndhurst High School girls’ basketball team, she almost walked away forever.

“I was overwhelmed,” Arvanitakis said. “I went home crying and told my Mom (Michele) that I was going to quit. I didn’t know the game. I didn’t know the plays. It was really tough. I only had played recreation basketball, so this was all new to me. I knew I was more of a soccer person.”

But Michele Arvanitakis didn’t want to hear any part of her daughter giving up, especially after Joanne had already made a full recovery from a torn knee ligament freshman year.

“When I told my Mom that I was going to quit, she said, ‘Why would you do that?’” Arvanitakis said. “She said, ‘You’re not a quitter.’ I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just kept it to myself that I was quitting.”

A day later, Arvanitakis trudged her way back to the Golden Bears’ practice. Head coach John Cousins had no idea that Arvanitakis was that close to giving up the sport.

“She tore her ACL as a freshman,” Cousins said. “For her to overcome that adversity is amazing. I didn’t know she wanted to give up. I just knew she was absent for a day and came back. She fought through the adversity of the knee injury.”

Arvanitakis started the first seven games of her soccer career as a freshman, then suffered the injury.

“At first, after I tore it, I didn’t believe that I could come back from it,” Arvanitakis said. “I then said that I was going to come back better than ever. I went through physical therapy (Arvanitakis credits Dr. Kimberly Cipriano of Optimum Orthopedics in Lyndhurst, a former basketball star at Harrison High, then Seton Hall for her recovery) three days a week. I had workouts I had to go through and sure enough, I came back stronger than ever.”

Arvanitakis’ comeback as a soccer player led to her comeback on the hardwood as well. She shook off that brief thought of quitting and was determined to be an even better basketball player.

Last week, she enjoyed her best week as a Lyndhurst basketball player.

Having had only three games all season where she reached double figures and a career-high of 19 one game, Arvanitakis began play last week with just 131 points in 21 games. She averaged just 6.2 points per game.

So it seemed unlikely that Arvanitakis would enjoy the explosion that she had in two games last week.

Before the season started, Arvanitakis told her mother that she would break the school record for 3-pointers made in a game.

“She said, ‘Yeah, right,’” Arvanitakis said. “She didn’t believe I could, so it made me want to beat the record more.”

The school record for threes made in a game was six, shared by four girls. Arvanitakis knew the record so well that she could rattle off the four former Golden Bears who made six in a game.

“There was Dina Halligan, Krista Halligan, Brittany Levario and Dana DeSimone,” Arvanitakis said. “I always looked at that record on the wall and saying I could do it.”

The girl who scored just six points per game thought she could drain more than six 3-pointers in one game? It seemed unattainable.

“Before the season, I looked at the wall and said I could do it,” Arvanitakis said.

Last week, the improbable became reality. Arvanitakis nailed seven 3-pointers en route to 29 points in a win over Bergen Charter, then tied the old record with six behind the arc in a win over Leonia, tallying 20 points in the process.

Two straight games where Arvanitakis scored more than her career best and two straight games where she either tied or broke the school record for treys in a game. That’s quite remarkable.

And for her efforts, Arvanitakis has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“I just worked hard and kept focused on what I had to do,” Arvanitakis said. “I had to be the best I could every practice, every game. I knew that I had to back up the first game, because everyone would think it was just a fluke. Could I do it again? I did it again. But I was actually surprised.”

Cousins wasn’t shocked at all.

“The last couple of games, Joanne has still been improving,” Cousins said. “She’s always had that ability to knock down shots, but she hadn’t been able to put it all together. Now, she’s really finding her stroke. She spent a lot of time, practicing on hitting the 3-point shot. Our team is looking to her more and getting the ball to her on her side of the floor. Her confidence is a little higher now. She can make that shot. From 16 feet, not so much, but from 19-9, that’s her shot. That’s her game.”

Cousins likes what Arvanitakis has done to the rest of the Golden Bears’ roster.

“She’s taken the pressure off everyone else,” Cousins said. “She’s busted the lid off that rim and made some shots. It’s really not a case of where has it been all season. It’s just that we’re executing better now. I’m just so happy for her.”

The Golden Bears were preparing to face Ridgefield Park in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state playoffs. It won’t be an easy task. It could very well spell the end of Arvanitakis’ basketball career. So it was better to save the best for last.

“I knew the record was six,” Arvanitakis said. “In the back of my mind, I knew I could do it. I had a couple of games where I got five. I feel pretty confident now. My shots are going in.”

Arvanitakis is headed to Felician College on an athletic/academic scholarship for soccer.

“Maybe I’ll give basketball a try, but I’m playing soccer in college,” Arvanitakis said. “I think it all depends on whether soccer is too much.”

She will major in either accounting or physical therapy in college.

So she was able to become Athlete of the Week before the season ended.

“I can’t believe it,” Arvanitakis said. “I’m shocked and surprised and happy.”


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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.”