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Varela, seniors take ownership for No. 2 NFA girls in win over Fitch

Norwich — Instead of the players' names, the warmup jackets for the Norwich Free Academy girls' basketball team Friday night each displayed a word of inspiration: positivity, selfless, determination.

Senior point guard Jenissa Varela's warmup was emblazoned with the word "ownership."

"We were doing a leadership day (a few weeks ago) and we came up with eight words," Varela said. "These words are our core values. We all believe in them."

Varela said the words represent the ideals the second-ranked Wildcats need to move forward.

And Friday night's 60-23 victory over previously unbeaten Fitch in the Eastern Connecticut Conference South Division was definitely a step in that direction.

Varela had 21 points and fellow seniors Anajah Ingram (13) and Sarah Ericson (12) also had double figures as NFA's defense smothered the Falcons, not allowing a field goal in the first quarter, on the way to a 17-2 lead.

The extremely versatile Ingram, listed as the Wildcats' center but running the floor and hitting 3-pointers, as well, started the scoring on an inbounds play and struck again when Varela zipped a pass to her inside the lane.

Ericson then got in on the act, completing a four-point play when she was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and following with another 3. Drives by Varela and Ingram gave NFA a 15-0 lead before Fitch's Alyssa Virtue scored her team's first points on a pair of free throws with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining in the quarter.

NFA (4-0), which could take over the top spot in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll next Tuesday, with No. 1 Notre Dame suffering its first loss this week, ran its offense efficiently and played defense like a swirling storm.

NFA started the season having graduated ECC tournament Most Outstanding Player Makayala Poirier-Vaughters and missing sophomore Jada Mills, who left to attend prep school.

"I think that all three of us (seniors Varela, Ericson and Ingram) over the summer worked really hard," Varela said. "We knew we lacked some of the talent we had last year, but this team has a lot of heart. We just go out and play our hardest."

"It's really all them," NFA coach Courtney Gomez said. "I think the team starts with the seniors. They have a commitment to this team. They know that they need each other to be able to lead this team."

Gomez credited the seniors with leadership skills, the ability to lift up their teammates and for being the hardest workers in the gym.

"The team energy feeds off their energy," Gomez said.

NFA led 29-14 at halftime, at which time Varela had nine points.

She scored 10 points in the third quarter, eight in a row on a three-point play, a drive and the ensuing two free throws and a 3-point field goal to cap a fast break. That made it 37-16 in the Wildcats' favor and they led 46-21 after three.

Varela, who will play beginning next season at Division II Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware, started the fourth quarter with a steal and a layup and Ingram finished an acrobatic layup on the front of the fast break before NFA emptied its bench.

"My teammates and coaching staff always remind me to attack the gaps," Varela said of several drives she made, weaving her way through the defense. "I've definitely gotten better at it this year."

Virtue finished with nine points for Fitch (3-1).


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