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Ledyard — Ari Fustini used to just get in the car in the morning for the ride to school. Her older sister, Kylie, then a senior, drove and picked the radio station, as well as keeping track of what time the pair had to be at basketball practice and when they were leaving.
"I got the car," said Ari, speaking of one of the differences this season has brought. "I drive myself to practice now. … It's a cool opportunity for me to step up. It's not about the awards or whatever, but you're the one the people look to find."
Ari Fustini is now a senior captain for the Ledyard High School girls' basketball team, the point guard for the Colonels, who entering tonight's Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division game at Norwich Free Academy are 8-1 overall, 3-0 in the division. (Tonight's game, beginning at 7 p.m., will be livestreamed on theday.com).
Kylie Fustini, The Day's 2013 All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year after leading Ledyard to an ECC Medium Division title, is a freshman at Brown University, where she competes as a thrower for the women's track team.
The sisters participated in three sports together at Ledyard, including volleyball and track, winning a state volleyball championship together a year ago, the first in program history.
"There's a lot of differences. I'm kind of street smart and she's kind of book smart," Ari said. "She plays a different position; there's always sister rivalry, but we never had to go for the same position or it could have been worse. Kylie was good at every sport she did."
"They interacted unlike sisters," Ledyard athletic director Jim Buonocore said. "They always got along. They were teammates. On the volleyball court or the basketball court, they were teammates, both ultra-competitive."
Now, not only can Ari Fustini listen to country music on the way to school in the morning, something her sister frowned upon, she's flourishing, too, including serving as vice president of Ledyard's senior class and earning highest honors over the first quarter.
Fustini will play basketball next season at Division III Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
In the fall, Ledyard's volleyball team was 24-2, winning the ECC tournament and advancing to the semifinals of the Class L state tournament. Fustini, one member of the Colonels' talented lineup of hitters, earned ECC honorable mention honors, finishing the league championship victory over Woodstock Academy with 12 kills and two aces.
Fustini has found her groove in basketball, as well, contributing eight assists in a win over New Milford and finishing with 15 points in a victory over Waterford, both earlier this month.
On Tuesday, during Ledyard's 47-44 win over East Lyme in an ECC Large Division game, Colonels coach Adam Baber noted Fustini's poise as she knocked in both ends of a one-and-one from the free throw line with 8.7 seconds remaining to extend the team's lead to three points.
"We've seen her develop from year to year. By the time she leaves, she'll be one of the best leaders I've ever had," Baber said. "She's very vocal; she leads, but leads in the correct way, in the way it's supposed to happen. She leads by example."
Buonocore calls Fustini "the last of a dying breed" for her dedication to three sports.
"We want our students participating, going from a fall sport to a winter sport to a spring sport, but it's not an easy thing to do," Buonocore said. "Especially with outside club teams, more and more athletes are going to concentrate on one particular sport. Ari is committed to high school."
Fustini said she enjoys that aspect, with three sets of teammates of which to be a part.
She said this year's basketball team has picked up where last year's left off, even without its graduated seniors.
"This year, we have this desire to win really bad," Fustini said. "Against East Catholic (after a loss to Lauralton Hall in the first round of the Mercy Christmas Tournament), Liv (DelGrosso) had a fire in her eye that she would not let anyone stop her. And she broke the school record (with 35 points).
"I'm kinda excited," Fustini said of the remainder of the season, including being in the Large Division for the first time. "We were looking at our bulletin board and we've had kind of a quiet season so far. This is kind of what you work for."