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This was a Marks Production

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published February 23. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich

It's not always this way in sports. But when moments become eras and eras become generations - and there's a corresponding player for each narrative - you are part of a program, not merely a team.

Bill Scarlata has crafted a program of lineage at Norwich Free Academy, championship teams linked with championship players. Even Scarlata, not prone to much reminiscing, was awash in the old days earlier this week, talking about how some of his all-timers are wives and mothers now.

All the NFA greats, from Glenney to Rappahahn to Chapman to Evans, were noteworthy at The Academy for their offense. At least that's what you remember. That's all anyone remembers, if they remember at all.

And that's what makes Friday night, an Olivia Marks Production, a story that needs to be told.

Marks is the typically, tragically underappreciated kid who doesn't always make the papers. She guards the other team's best player. She gets run over taking charges. She is a facilitator. In other words, nobody notices. Casual fans don't look past results. Nobody's interested in nuance. You get noticed when you score.

This was the night Olivia Marks, the brand new Most Valuable Player of the 2013 Eastern Connecticut Conference girls' basketball tournament, did it all. She led the Wildcats with 15 points, including a 3-pointer late in overtime that gave the champs the lead for good. What she did mostly, though, was chase Bacon Academy senior Taylor McLaughlin to everywhere but the restroom.

This is not easy. McLaughlin is the toughest player to guard in the conference. Post player with guard skills. Clever moves in and out. Headed to Division II Southern Connecticut, not long removed from a national championship.

"I was really nervous," Marks said. "But I thought I knew some of the things she might do."

It is for this reason that Scarlata found a Marks' soul sister in NFA lore and legend.

"Alex Ivansheck," Scarlata said, alluding to a former guard in the program has who has become Coast Guard Academy's women's basketball coach. "Alex was that kind of tough player. But she was a guard so she guarded the other team's best guard. Olivia guards the best player.

"She's the glue to everything we do," he said. "Just such a tough kid, such a nice kid, someone the other kids look up to. She takes everything I give her. 'Go play the best player and shut her down.' She says, 'OK.' She does it. I don't ask how."

NFA, rarely the underdog now, was the underdog Friday. Bacon is the state's fifth-ranked team. Just pounded No. 2 Career of New Haven, perhaps the state Class LL favorite. Starts five seniors. Well coached. But the Wildcats, in front of a passionate home crowd and student section, channeled their inner Olivia.

"We came out with nothing to lose. We knew we didn't have to prove anything because everyone thought we'd lose anyway," junior Alyssa Velles said.

Velles won last season's ECC final with 14 points in the fourth quarter. She won Wednesday's semifinal with a late layup. She had but one point midway through the third period Friday.

"We won because Olivia stepped up huge," Velles said. "It means a lot to me because of how hard she works."

Later, Scarlata was talking about how Marks "picks up little nuances" other players don't. She even took the more overt hint from Scarlata to start shooting the ball more. She made the biggest shot of the game in overtime. Finally. Sort of like the time Eliza Doolittle finally got "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain."

It took a while, sure. But Scarlata, like Professor Higgins, could have surely yelled "I think she's got it!" quite happily Friday night.

The kid who does the grunt work for everyone else got her name chanted by the student section during the postgame merriment. Sometimes, games end the right way. And now Olivia Marks has her place among the lineage.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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