hs girls basketball

OLMA 44 Ruta Vetra fouls Absegami 24 Sara Pietropola during the first half. Friday January 18 2013 OLMA at Absegami girls basketball. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

Ruta Vetra came to the United States from Latvia two years ago to get a good education and play a lot of basketball.

The 6-foot Our Lady of Mercy Academy senior will continue all of that at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

Vetra signed a national letter of intent Tuesday at OLMA to accept a full athletic scholarship to the NCAA Division I school. She plans to major in biology.

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"I really loved the coaching staff and the atmospere (at NJIT), and I felt like I could fit in," said Vetra, an 18-year-old Vineland resident. "I loved their academics. It will be challenging, but I'm ready for it."

Vetra had to overcome a big obstacle because she suffered a season-ending knee injury in OLMA's second practice game of the 2011-12 season. She had an operation in February 2012.

She returned and played this winter for OLMA, averaging just less than 10 points and nine rebounds while playing all five positions for the Villagers. She shot better than 80 percent from the free-throw line.

"It felt great great to be back and help the team after I sat all of last year," Vetra said. "This year I proved myself."

Our Lady of Mercy Academy finished 13-14.

"We didn't do as well as we had hoped," Vetra said. "When (6-foot-5 center) Mariya Ruban was injured, I took her place at that position. It was interesting. The team had a lot of ups and downs. Playing all the positions was definitely a good experience and it made me more skilled."

Basketball runs in the Vetra family. Gundars Vetra, Ruta's 6-foot-6 father, played for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1992-93 season before returning to Latvia and playing for the Soviet national team. He's now a basketball coach in Latvia. Laura Vetra, Ruta's older sister, just completed a four-year career at Division I Fairfield University in Connecticut.

"It's a funny thing - my dad never really coached me, but he came to my games," Ruta Vetra said. "My mother (Artiba) played basketball in Latvia, but not professionally. My father is excited for me. I'm away from home, but they trust me with the decision (to go to NJIT), and they're definitely happy."

Ruta Vetra lives with the family of senior teammate Ali Dandrea in Vineland. Laura's career began much the same way, since she played one year for a high school in Texas and lived with another family before going on to Fairfield.

OLMA coach Chip Reitano called Vetra a team player.

"Ruta can put up 20 points and 10 rebounds, but she's not looking to put up the stats as much as she wants to make the team better," Reitano said. "She handles the ball very well, and she's strong defensively. She has a good wingspan, and she gets off her feet. She's a great rebounder."

New Jersey Institute of Technology went 16-15 and won it first Great West Conference championship this winter. The league has teams from New Jersey to California.

"The coach (Steve Lanpher) says they may put me at point guard," said Vetra. "It depends on how hard I work on it. No spot is guaranteed for a freshman."

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