Two veteran seniors who gave solid performances last week were Ximena Varela-Marin, the No. 1 singles player for the St. Paul girls tennis team and Jagger Duquette of the Bristol Eastern baseball team. They are the “Athlete of the Week” picks.
Valera-Marin, the daughter of Eva and Eduardo Varela-Marin, captured second place at the NVL Tennis Championships on Wednesday, the best finish for the Falcons in the tournament. The placement earned her All-NVL honors.
The St. Paul captain, who went 15-1 during regular season play, won three matches on her way to the individual championship match. This after working hard in the offseason to be the successful player she has become.
“Our No. 1 and No. 2 were graduating, so I told Ximena at the end of last year, ‘Ya know, you’re gonna be our No. 1 next year. You’re gonna need to prepare,’” St. Paul co-coach Beth Hines said. “I said, ‘You could definitely be competitive in this league at No. 1, but you can’t take the winter off.’ She rose to the challenge.”
This included working at The Tennis and Fitness of Rocky Hill with coaches Ron Goodman and Antonio Rniolo.
She also had the support of family. Her father is a lifelong tennis player whose life encompasses the game in growing up in Mexico. He’s an announcer for ESPN International and ESPN Deportes who calls the NFL, MLB and tennis, his favorite sport. Eduardo spent a lot of time with her in practicing and sharing videos of the sport with her.
She also wanted to play like former St. Paul standout Natasha Kempe, now the JV coach, who is one of the best to have played for the school.
“Natasha was everyone’s idol,” Hines said.
With the NVL tournament now over, Varela-Marin has one more plateau to conquer this spring.
“My goals for the rest of the season are to just succeed in the states as a team and individually,” Varela-Marin said. “I want to end the season on a high note, so going far into the states is a goal of mine.”
As far as plans for the future, she will be attending UConn in the fall where she will be studying accounting. She says she won’t be trying out for tennis her freshman year, but will play to keep her game in shape because she may go out for the team at a later time.
Duquette, the son of Jen and Mark Duquette, gets the “AOW” nod after he and his teammates topped Bristol Central by a score of 6-2 a week ago in a Muzzy Field nightcap. This was special for different reasons, including the fact the Lancers qualified for the state tournament with the win. The Lancers, who had lost 11 straight games at one point, finished the regular season 8-12.
Duquette celebrated when the last out was made by pounding the inside of his glove three times before embracing his catcher Nathan Ouellette. The Bristol Eastern senior tossed a complete game that night against the Rams, helping the Lancers avoid being the school’s first baseball team to miss the state tournament since 1998.
“His knowledge comes into play and that benefits him,” Eastern head coach Mike Giovinazzo said. “He makes adjustments during games [such as] what pitches are working that day and against which hitters. … His attitude is outstanding. You couldn’t ask for a kid who’s more in-tune and focused on the game than he is. … I don’t have to do a lot when it comes to Jagger pitching on the mound.”
Duquette added that his favorite part of the game is being in control. He enjoys being the one called upon to face the opposing team’s batters and having a solid defense behind him. The interesting thing is that Jagger entered high school with plans on being a catcher, however, Brian Rooney, freshman coach at the school, needed more pitching and saw the potential in Duquette’s arm.
“I’m not a pitcher, Duquette recalled telling Rooney. “But I know how to pitch so I’ll do it.”
His first performance on the mound in practice was impressive and from that day forward he’d develop into one of the best high school hurlers in the state today.
“He puts a lot of time into the offseason,” Giovinazzo recently told Press sports reporter Zack Carpenter. “He does a lot of training. He’s made himself much stronger. He works at his craft. He’s very diligent about making sure he’s in shape during the season and that he’s constantly getting in his bullpen sessions. He’s a craftsman as a pitcher.”
Coming from Giovinazzo, a longtime coach and player, that definitely says a lot about Duquette’s determination.