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Harari sparks Senators to win in long-awaited return

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Jackie Harari’s schedule the past 11 months has been a rather full one.

Her daily itinerary has for much of the past year included her usual heavy workload at school, as well as major knee surgery and countless hours of grueling rehab.

What it didn’t include was any basketball — her injury from last February sidelined Harari for almost an entire calendar year.

But last Friday, for the first time in 331 days, Harari walked back onto the court and resumed her high school career as the senior captain for the American Studies girls basketball team, and the game she loves so much.

She didn’t start the Senators’ contest against Taft, as head coach Ryan Hondorf chose to ease his star senior back into action. But at the 6-minute mark of the first period — and with American Studies in an early 6-0 hole — Harari finally made her long-awaited return, sparking the Senators to a 48-41 victory.

The win upped American Studies’ record to 7-1, giving the team a share of first place in the Bronx B West Division.

Not a bad return act for sure.

“It was definitely hard at the end of last season,” said Harari, who played the game with a large brace on her right knee. “We had high hopes for the playoffs, and then it was hard watching the team not succeed.”

But that wasn’t going to be the case in Harari’s return.

She notched her first points of the season on a jumper with 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter that gave the Senators a 12-9 lead. She added six more in the second, helping American Studies to a slim 26-22 lead at halftime.

Then Harari made her presence known once again in the third quarter scoring six of the Senators’ first 10, building a 36-24 lead. When the Senators’ cushion eventually ballooned to 19 points with four minutes to play, Harari’s day was pretty much over, finishing with a team-high 14 points along with eight rebounds.

“At first I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t live up to my expectations,” Harari said. “But once I was back on the court, it all felt kind of natural again. (Last Thursday) was the first practice that I had my brace, and it was the first time I was allowed to scrimmage. So this game was only the second time I had played. So I was definitely nervous that something was going to happen.”

Ironically, Harari’s school friends didn’t make her return to the hardwood any less stressful.

“All day my friends were saying, ‘Hey, break a leg,’” Harari said, laughing. “So I was knocking on wood all day.”

Harari’s teammates made sure her return would be a successful one. Emily Eljamal (11 points, 18 rebounds) and Alexis Guberman (12 points, 13 rebounds) logged double-doubles, and Cayla Kelin chipped in six assists, five points and four rebounds.

All of which made for a feel-good return for Harari.

And perhaps no one felt more grateful for that than Hondorf.

“It was really nice,” the coach said. “Having her gone for so long, I didn’t forget how much her value was to us. But when she was out there making plays, I thought to myself, ‘Man, it’s nice to have her back.’”

Hondorf had a little pregame chat with his senior guard as a means of calming her nerves prior to tip-off.

“I told her she’s done this a million times before, and this is just another game,” Hondorf said. “But once she got out there and started playing, I really didn’t see any nerves. She looked like her old self, and that was really nice to see.”

With a game — and a victory — now under her belt, Harari realizes how fortunate she is to be back doing what she loves: Playing basketball.

“Any injury is really difficult to come back from, but ACL injuries are a lot longer,” Harari said. “I got a lot of encouragement while I was out. Most people don’t play again for 10-and-a-half months to a year. So I’m super-grateful that I’m back.”

The stands at the Old Gym Building, the Senators’ home court, were fuller than usual for Harari’s return. And that didn’t go unnoticed by the senior.

“You’ve seen our bleachers. They’re usually pretty empty,” Harari said. “So to have my friends come and support me was really nice. Basketball is pretty much my life at school so I finally feel like myself again.

“This game was just the cherry on top.”

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