Robbinsville High senior Fiona Aromando drives to the basket Dec. 19, 2017 during the Ravens’ 44-22 win against Hamilton West. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Growing up with an older brother who quarterbacked the Robbinsville High football team, along with a younger brother and two younger sisters, Fiona Aromando had to survive the backyard family wars before she could even think about excelling for a Ravens team.

“They are extremely competitive,” Aromando said. “From wiffle ball, to front-yard football, to driveway two-on-two basketball; the five of us love to compete for bragging rights. Feuds often break out because nobody wants to lose.

“(Older brother) Andrew always loved to play with and against me. He would invite me whenever he had the guys over to play pick up and they never took it easy on me, but it was so much fun. Andrew is the only person I know more competitive than me, and if you ask anyone in Robbinsville, he is the king of backyard games, so he was a tough rival. But I like a challenge.”

Joe Washington and his Ravens girls’ basketball team are reaping the benefits of that upbringing, as Aromando returns as one of the Colonial Valley Conference’s top players this season.

Having started every varsity game since her freshman year, Aromando has the highest three-year point total in RHS history with 875; and she was an All-CVC and Coaches All-Star selection each of the past two seasons. Aromando averaged 14.5 points per game as a junior and made 52 3-point shots.

“She is somebody that other teams have to recognize as a shooter,” said Washington, now in his second year. “If she’s open she’s gonna knock it down a lot of times. She can get to the basket going to the right, going to the left. And she’s done a much better job distributing the ball, recognizing what type of game situation it is. When she gets to the foul line she’s pretty locked in.”

Aromando is the key player for a young Ravens team that has just four players returning, including Danielle Heulitt, Maya Johnson and Julia Cueto.

“What I’m looking for from her is to be an extension of the coaching staff when she’s out there because she does see things on the floor,” Washington said. “She plays basketball all year round, which isn’t always the case with these kids. She’s definitely helping these younger girls see things out there.”

And she is getting no resistance while teaching.

“What’s important is that the young kids are willing to learn and they all want to win, and are very willing to listen to myself and my coaches and do what it takes to get better,” Aromando said. “If everyone continues to progress, I think we will be able to outdo last year’s (15-11) record, and make a deeper run in the postseason, which has been a long term goal of mine since I entered the program. I know a lot of responsibility is placed on my shoulders, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a leader and make an impact.”

The oppositions defensive attention will fall squarely upon Aromando, who saw her share of junk defenses designed to stop her last season. Washington installed some things to try and help her out, and feels she has gradually learned how to handle it.

“Coach Wash found creative ways to run me off screens or switch up the offense to get me involved,” Aromando said. “I just try to stay out of my own head. I’m a senior now and all the opposing coaches have seen me for years, so I don’t expect the pressure to stop. I view it as a sign of respect, and I trust my teammates to feed me when I’m open, and I know coach will do all he can to help.”

It wasn’t always like this. As a youngster, Aromando would try to force the issue and, instead, forced herself right out of the game.

“As an underclassman, I had a hard time keeping my composure because I’m always looking to score and when I wasn’t able to, that took my head out of it,” she said. “This season I trust my skills and experience to keep me cool and take it one play at a time, no matter what the defense throws at me.”

The fact Aromando is excelling should not come as a surprise, considering her family’s athletic background. Her dad, Andrew, and uncle John both played football at The College of New Jersey, her aunt Donna was a field hockey/lacrosse standout for the Lions and her aunt Vicki was an All-American basketball player at Siena College.

“In my house, not playing sports really was not an option,” Aromando said. “We could choose what we wanted to do, but it had to be something. I wouldn’t change a thing, though. My parents knew the values learned in sports such as leadership, companionship, poise, and confidence would benefit my siblings and I in all areas of life. The lessons I’ve learned over the years have proven that to be true.”

Aromando began basketball in the Robbinsville Recreation League in first grade and according to her parents, was afraid of the ball back then. Fortunately, that changed quickly and she moved on to the Robbinsville Rage to play for Andrew in fourth grade.
“I’m so thankful for my dad’s coaching,” she said. “He really taught me how to play the game and working together all those years made us so close.”

‘This kid… is one of the hardest working players in the gym, one of the most skilled players and the kid that puts in the most time.’

Aromando elevated to AAU with the Council Rock Rebels in seventh grade and called it “scary” meeting new people and playing at a higher level; but she felt the experience was invaluable. After 8th grade, she re-joined her dad with the Rebels at the Monroe Sports Center, and moved on to the Mid-Jersey Mavericks where she played with future RHS teammates.

She found her AAU niche in ninth grade when former Ravens coach Chris Hoffman hooked her up with the Jersey Shore Starz of Toms River, where she credited coaches John Mayo and Buddy Pavia for “taking me from a timid freshman to an aggressive threat that looks to score on every possession.”

Aromando played basketball and soccer her first two years at Robbinsville; with soccer being her favorite sport. But after two seasons she gave it up.

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Aromando said. “I realized I’d grown to love basketball more and decided I had aspirations to play in college. With that goal in mind I knew I had to dedicate my junior year to training and getting recruited and playing as much as I could. It really would’ve been impossible to go to soccer practice and then drive an hour to basketball every night, and I didn’t want to miss any AAU tournaments. It was tough, but I don’t regret it.”

The results have proven she made the right choice, but Aromando is more than just talented. Washington, also as an assistant football coach, recalls driving into early-morning football practices in August and seeing Aromando running the bleachers.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “She’s just putting in the time to get in the best shape possible to have her best season. This kid, from the time I got here last year, is one of the hardest working players in the gym, one of the most skilled players and the kid that puts in the most time.”

Not just on the court but in the classroom. Aromando has a weighted GPA of 4.33 and an SAT score of 1320. She is a four-year member of student council and also part of the environmental club and National Honor Society. The end result is a ticket to the University of Gettysburg, where she will become teammates with current Pennington School senior Carly Dixon.

“The recruiting process was very long and taxing, but thanks to the exposure and outreach of my coaches as well as the support and insight from my parents, I was able to make a decision,” Aromando said. “Gettysburg stood out to me in so many ways. It is a great academic school, especially for my intended political science major, and that was really important to me. Also, it is a manageable distance from home, so my parents will be able to see me play.

“The coaches are so dedicated to their program and have great philosophy and tactics which I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of. On my official overnight I got to see so much of how the coaches and players interacted and I met so many great people. I just knew it was the place for me. It was a long road and I’m so thankful for all the college coaches that took interest in me but I’m thrilled to have found a new home at Gettysburg.”

And she’s happy that her original home prepared her to handle all the athletic wars that got her this far.