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Junior Bella Ragaini competes for the girls’ volleyball, basketball, and outdoor track teams at East Haven High School. This winter, Bella cemented herself in Yellowjackets’ history by hitting the game-winning shot when the basketball team edged Career 49-47 to win the Class M state title. (Photo courtesy of Bella Ragaini )
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Bella Ragaini stepped onto the varsity floor for the volleyball and girls’ basketball squads as a freshman at East Haven High School. Now a junior, Bella has proven an integral member of both teams during the past few seasons. Bella helped the volleyball team reach the state final last fall and then hit game-winning shot when the basketball squad won the Class M state title this past winter.
Bella has been playing both volleyball and basketball since she was in grade school. She says she felt fortunate to earn her early playing time with the Yellowjackets.
“It was very rewarding, but I felt like because I was getting the opportunity, that I had to make sure the opportunity I was given was taken advantage of,” says Bella. “I didn’t think because I was starting as a freshman I was entitled. It made me work harder. I was younger than everyone else, so I had to work harder than everyone else.”
East Haven volleyball Head Coach Craig Brown could sense right away that Bella was going to make an impact in her freshman season. Brown says that Bella is the type of athlete who embraces those big moments on the court.
“She is not afraid of the moment, which is always huge...She’s always ready to step in when the moment is ready for her,” Coach Brown says. “She is there to make the big set, the big save. She’s ready to do it for the team. I know all the other girls are appreciative of her stepping in and leading them the best she can on the court.”
Bella runs the offense for the volleyball squad as the Yellowjackets’ setter. Her biggest responsibility is making sure that everyone is in the proper spot for her to deliver a perfect pass. Last year, Bella recorded 733 assists for the Easties as a sophomore.
“Being the setter is like being the offensive captain, because I’m in charge of everything. I have to choose what to do, and that came natural to me because, if I was a captain or not, I need to be a leader,” Bella says. “Since setting is an important role, you have to lead. Playing so many sports, I know how to do my part and take care of everybody.”
Bella’s biggest moment at East Haven to date came on the basketball court. At the end of the 2018 winter season, Bella hit a buzzer-butter to give East Haven a 49-47 victory versus Career in the Class M state final, resulting in the team’s first state title in program history. With the score tied at 47 with 14 seconds left in the game, Bella’s teammate Makenzie Helms drove to the hoop. Helms’s shot hit the front rim, but Bella grabbed the offensive rebound, and floated home the championship-clinching bucket.
“It feels like so long ago, and I still can’t even process it. I literally can’t. It was crazy. We drew up a play for Makenzie to take it to the basket, and she got the shot, but I was just there. I wasn’t even thinking. I just reacted and put the ball in the basket,” says Bella. “I can’t describe the feeling. It still hasn’t sunk in completely yet. Honestly, it’s the craziest thing that has happened in my life.”
Bella sharpens her skills on the basketball court by competing at the AAU level during the summer. She loves playing both sports at East Haven and feels proud of all the postseason success that her teams have achieved.
“It’s actually great to be a part of. What makes us so special is we don’t take advantage of our past, because we have made it so far. We don’t think we’re going to walk on and people will hand the game to us,” Bella says. “It makes us work harder, because we know what we’re capable of if we work hard.”
In the spring, Bella competes for the East Haven girls’ outdoor track squad. She runs the 300 hurdles, is a member of the 4x400 relay, and also throws the javelin.
“My favorite would be the 4x4, because I like how you’re with three others. It makes me run harder, because I don’t want to hurt our race. That’s my favorite, but my best event is the javelin because, when I was younger, I used to play softball. Throwing a softball and throwing the javelin, the arm motion is similar,” says Bella. “Track events help me [for volleyball and basketball], because they push me. I’m not the fastest and don’t have the most endurance, but track forces me to push myself and make myself work harder, which prepares me well for the other sports.”
Bella still has several seasons ahead of her at East Haven High School. No matter what team she’s playing for, Bella wants to continue helping the Easties see success, while competing alongside teammates who are like sisters to her.
“My goals are to make each team the best they can be. I want to push everyone to work hard and accomplish what we can accomplish,” Bella says. “The teams I’ve been on have been great. It doesn’t feel like a team. We’re just a family, and I think that’s a big part of why we do so well. We don’t play for ourselves. Our coaches have taught us there is no ‘I’ in team. You need to accomplish everything together.”
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