Arbanas in stretch run of comeback

YOUNGSTOWN — Nikki Arbanas sat on the Youngstown State bench in her street clothes as her women’s basketball teammates competed, looking at her right knee.

The Hickory (Pa.) High School graduate tore her anterior cruciate ligament during the first official day of practice prior to the 2016-17 season.

She imagined her injury was a great disappointment to the team, as she thought she would have a breakout season after a successful sophomore campaign.

Instead of wallowing in misery, she found other things to occupy her time considering playing basketball wasn’t possible. Her right knee wouldn’t allow it.

She read more books and started yoga.

Arbanas said yoga relieved the undue stress from the injury, but more importantly helped with her balance, which helps with the twists and turns she experiences on the basketball court.

“I wanted to try something different,” said Arbanas, who is slated to return this fall for her redshirt junior season. “I ended up really loving it. It’s great to know after basketball there will be another place for me.”

Her place is as the starting shooting guard at YSU, a huge void for a Penguins team which won nine games last season.

On the bench, she realized coach John Barnes and his staff have a different view of the game from the players.

The redshirt junior said she can be a liaison this year between the coaches and players.

“Sitting on the bench I definitely see the frustrations of coaching, realizing that you’re unable to help the circumstance,” Arbanas said. “You want to do everything you possibly can.”

She’s always been a player who led by example. That changes this fall thanks to the time she spent on the bench.

“I want my team behind me when it comes to being a vocal leader,” Arbanas said.

She’s been doing weight training this summer and plans on doing shooting and ball-handling drills when the team resumes practice next week as the fall semester starts at YSU.

“Incorporate myself slowly in with the team and I’ll be full-go with the team sooner than you think,” said the 5-foot-7 Arbanas.

The last thing Barnes wants is Arbanas to re-injure herself. Her doctor has been conservative with her rehabilitation.

“But with that being said, there’s a lot less likelihood to re-injure the same knee or hurt the other knee the longer you take to get back in,” Barnes said.

Arbanas said YSU women’s basketball athletic trainer Sarah Sydor is monitoring her progress.

“It’s now working my way back with the team and see how comfortable or not comfortable I am,” Arbanas said.

Mental preparation is a big part of how a player recovers from an ACL tear. Sometimes there is phantom pain when a player goes back to the floor.

Arbanas doesn’t see that as an issue because of the support of her team.

“Just having of the confidence of the team behind me will be huge for me, and the coaches believe I didn’t miss a beat from last year,” she said.