NFA girls on track for greatness

Norwich - Over the winter, when the Norwich Free Academy girls were finishing third at the Class LL indoor track meet, things were only beginning to take shape.

Senior captain Yana Babbitt, for instance, specializes in the javelin and discus, which aren't offered in indoor track. She threw the shot put over the winter and hit the weight room, waiting for her turn.

Now that it's spring?

"They're really, really good, really, really deep. This is probably the best NFA team that Kara's had, if not ever," East Lyme coach Carl Reichard said, crediting NFA coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola.

"It just keeps going," Reichard said. "We ran a 9:54-9:55 in the 4x800 today. In a dual meet. Our best of the season by 15 seconds. They beat us by 10 seconds. They've got all the things that you're looking for: they're talented, they're deep, they're well-coached."

In what is usually the marquee matchup in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division, NFA toppled East Lyme 102.5-47.5 on Tuesday afternoon, remaining undefeated at 6-0 overall, 4-0 in the Large Division. East Lyme, last year's Class MM outdoor champ, is 5-1, 3-1.

Among the developing storylines for the Wildcats:

• Brianna Lenehan, a junior, set the school record in the 800 meters Saturday at the Irv Black Invitational in 2 minutes, 15.56 seconds, shattering the previous mark of 2:17.98. Against East Lyme, she was a member of the aforementioned 4x800 team, as well as winning the 1,600 in 5:16, edging East Lyme's Eva Christensen in a rematch of the ECC 1,000 during indoor season that was won by Christensen.

• Dyshelle Pemberton, a junior transfer from Fitch, won the 100 (12.7) and 400 (58.6) against the Vikings.

Pemberton is the niece of NFA Hall of Famer Judy Pemberton Bell, who went on to be a three-time All-American at Eastern Connecticut State University.

• Babbitt, who plans to throw the javelin at Division I Liberty University next season, took the discus (personal best 106 feet, 8 inches) and the javelin (116-5) Tuesday.

• Kaylyn Levine, a senior and a former member of the softball team, was second in the javelin and is one of four teammates in that event to have already qualified for states. Meanwhile, freshman Lauren Kneer was a member of Tuesday's winning 4x100 relay team and helped lead a sweep in the 100, following Pemberton and MiaLynne Park.

"They're all great athletes," Babbitt said of the additions to the NFA roster.

"It's nice to have people coming in, especially my senior year."

"It's right up there," Kochanski-Vendola said, asked of Reichard's intimation that this could be her best team. "We just had to know where to put people. We definitely didn't get who's doing what right away; there's a lot of strategizing."

The win by the 4x800 team of Alyssa Field, Anna Kudej, Lenehan and Charlotte Van Sambeck was followed by the 4x100 team of Knerr, Park, Brittany Grabill and Brianna McClafferty (50.7), with Kudej the only senior among those eight.

By the time the Wildcats swept the 100, NFA led the meet 19.5-8.5.

"We've been planning for this meet for awhile now," Lenehan said.

"Mr. (Kevin) Crowley (assistant coach) got it in our heads that May Day (May 1) would be the day to go against East Lyme."

Also winning events for NFA were Kneer (long jump), Erin Schaeffer (high jump), Camille McKenzie (300 hurdles), Van Sambeck (800), Park (200), Grabill (triple jump), Katie Holdridge (3,200) and Allie Sullivan (pole vault).

Gianna Folz (100 hurdles) and Christina Watts (shot put) won events for East Lyme, as well as the 4x400 team of Anika Pallan, Erika Tabares, Megan Stoddard and Emma Perry.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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