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A look back at two outstanding girls basketball teams

“Wait until next year”… It’s a phrase often spoken in sports and meant to reflect a sense of hope with thoughts toward the future, yet for some it offers no consolation. That’s the feeling I got when I looked at the faces of the senior members of the Amsterdam High School Lady Rams varsity basketball team after the their loss to Averill Park in the Class A championship game at Hudson Valley Community College. This was their “next year.”

But what people may not realize is that this year’s team became only the fourth girls sports team in school history to reach a New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 championship game. With their 52-43 win over Troy at Ballston Spa High School in the semi-finals, they joined the 1982 Amsterdam High School girls softball team, the 2009-2010 Amsterdam High School girls tennis team, and the 1993-1994 Amsterdam High School girls basketball team, as sectional finalists. That said, I’d like to take some time to reflect on a part of school sports history with a perspective of the two girls basketball teams to reach a championship game, the challenges they faced, and offer a glimpse of the future that Lady Rams teams have helped create. So, if everyone will bear with me for one more story, I’ve opened up my archives and turned on a spotlight to take another step back in time.

The 1993-1994 Amsterdam Lady Rams – Back to back Big 10 Champs

The 1993-1994 Amsterdam High School Lady Rams basketball team was actually the second AHS team to win a girls basketball conference title. The 1992-1993 team led by seniors Carrie Gressick and Debbi Ramirez finished 11-1 in the Big 10 Conference, clinched a tie for the title with a second half rally to defeat Bishop Maginn, and then won it outright on Liz Hildreth’s buzzer beating three pointer against Albany. But, winning the league title wasn’t the only claim to fame for the 1992-1993 team. They were the first girls basketball team in school history to have a winning record. The 1992-1993 Lady Rams reached the semi-finals in the Section 2 Class B tournament before falling 52-36 to the Academy of Holy Names. The following year, a Lady Rams team led by several returning players including a starting five that consisted of seniors Kerry Ochal, Erica Sheckton, Lisa Davey, Liz Hildreth, and junior Jorgette Ramirez took the program to its highest level yet.

Amsterdam, competing as a Class B school, went undefeated in a Big 10 Conference that was dominated by mostly Class A schools such as Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Catholic Central, and Bishop Maginn (Class AA didn’t begin until 2004), and overall was undefeated until the last regular season game against Saint Johnsville. Along the way, Amsterdam defeated local rivals Gloversville, Johnstown, and Broadalbin-Perth, and beat a pair of non-league opponents in South Glens Falls and Bethlehem Central.

1993-1994 Season Highlights

Amsterdam began the 1993-1994 campaign victories over Gloversville and Johnstown in the Gloversville Tip Off Classic. The Lady Rams opened the Big 10 season with a 63-46 win at home against Schenectady that saw both Kerry Ochal (27 points), and Erica Sheckton (17 points) reach game highs for their careers. Ochal later took that a step further with 30 points in a win over Catholic Central. Amsterdam followed that win with a 55-52 triumph over their closest league rival Bishop Maginn, and picked up their fifth straight with a 47-40 victory over South Glens Falls in a rematch of their 1993 Class B quarter-final. After a 58-41 win over Troy, a newspaper article compared the team to an old television set that required an adjustment of the antenna so that the picture would get better.

And they kept getting better, racking up wins over Bishop Gibbons, Bishop Maginn, and a pair of victories against a Broadalbin-Perth team that had snapped an 11 game win streak by the Lady Rams the previous season. One the team’s best wins came over a Suburban Council team in Bethlehem Central 67-66, to match their program’s best 11 game win streak. Less than a week later in late January 1994, the Lady Rams set a new mark for an AHS girls basketball team by picking up their twelfth straight with a 53-40 win at home over Broadalbin-Perth, and later recorded their 16th consecutive home win with a 53-40 triumph over Albany.

The 1993-1994 Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity basketball team clinched a tie for the Big 10 title by defeating Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons 56-36 to improve to 17-0 on the season. Three days later, Amsterdam earned a 62-49 win over Albany, to claim its second straight Big 10 Conference title. The Lady Rams then completed their first unbeaten league record with a 67-42 triumph over Catholic Central and a 19-0 overall record as they headed into a game with a 19-0 Saint Johnsville team that boasted a 47 game win streak.

Billed as “The County Championship”

February 17, 1994, and I remember Amsterdam coach Mary Girol saying that she felt the team was “out of their game all night.” And it certainly seemed that way. The Lady Rams shot well below their average at only 30 percent, and sent Saint Johnsville to the free throw line too often where they scored 21 points and won 63-42. Amsterdam wasn’t about to let that derail their quest for a title, and the Lady Rams entered the Class B sectional tournament as the top seed. At the time some thought defending Class B champion Ichabod Crane would provide a challenge to Amsterdam in the quarter-final round, but they quickly dispatched that notion and romped over Ichabod Crane 66-26 with Jorgette Ramirez recording a ‘triple-double’.

On to the title game

Amsterdam followed the victory over Ichabod Crane with a 47-40 semi-final win over Lansigburgh getting double-digit scoring efforts from Ochal, Hildreth, and Sheckton, and double-digit rebound efforts from Lisa Davey and Jorgette Ramirez. Sharing in the scoring was something that typified the Lady Rams season. Their record 21st win sent them into the Class B title game against the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Lady Spartans at Colonie High School on March 5, 1994. Amsterdam’s suffocating defense had an impact on Burnt Hills leading scorer Jenn Miklic, and the Lady Rams led by six, 22-16 at halftime. However, Burnt Hills pressed more on defense in the second half and the Lady Rams scored only four points in the third quarter, all free throws, and shot only 1 for 22 from the field with Lisa Davey’s three point make over the last 15 minutes of the game the only field goal for the Lady Rams. AHS was outscored 26-14 in the last two quarters where Miklic scored most of her game high 25 points as Burnt Hills pulled away to win 42-36. After the game, Coach Girol expressed that she was proud of the girls for playing with their hearts right to the end. At this year’s championship, Coach Eric Duemler made the same statement about his team after their effort.

The 1993-1994 Amsterdam Lady Rams basketball team put several players into the school record books including Kerry Ochal, who’s attitude and confidence led her team. Ochal wasn’t concerned with breaking records, but was dedicated to her team and focused on them being successful. She moved into second place on the school scoring list with 792 career points, and in 1993-1994 was only 15 points shy of Amy Jo Stewart’s single season best 400 points. A record that was broken this year by another Lady Ram with the same dedication as Ochal.

Liz Hildreth never let people tell her that at 5 feet tall, she was too short to play the game. Her parents even videotaped every game she played from youth leagues to high school, and she finished her career at AHS with 651 points which was good for fourth place at the time on the school’s career scoring list. Lisa Davey scored 438 points, and at the time held the school record for three-point goals with 19. Erica Sheckton ended her time at AHS with 373 points. Both Hildreth and Jorgette Ramirez were named to the 1994 Section 2 Class B All Tournament Team.

The 1993-1994 Amsterdam Lady Rams basketball team included Lisa Davey, Liz Hildreth, Kerry Ochal, Erica Sheckton, Jorgette Ramirez, Kathleen Davey, Tricia Altieri, Chris Achet, Erin Reese, Heather Yurkon, Nadine Bartyzel, and Jennifer Ryba. Also seeing action as junior varsity additions were Sandy Martin, Kristen Downey, and Samantha Clymer.

From my perspective, the 1993-1994 Amsterdam Lady Rams were one of the most unselfish teams I had seen play. They understood the concept of teamwork and respected each other on the court. What was unique about that Lady Rams team is that it was actually two schools working together as one. When Bishop Scully High School closed in 1990, some of the basketball players from that school joined the Lady Rams when they enrolled at AHS. The influx of experienced players boosted the program and helped send them on to three great seasons where the Amsterdam girls basketball team achieved a 49-16 record.

There is now another group of Lady Rams, who in my opinion, show the same unselfish qualities with an equal amount of respect for themselves as a team and for the game, and that’s the 2015-2016 Amsterdam Lady Rams basketball team.

The 2015 -2016 Amsterdam Lady Rams – Foothills Council’s best, two years and counting

Just look at Amsterdam’s record over the last two years carefully, 33-10 overall, and 26-2 in the Foothills Council. It’s the best record in the league over the past two seasons. What’s important to note is that the Amsterdam girls basketball program did that in its first two years in a new league. The 2015-2016 team picked up where the 2014-2015 team left off, and took the program a step higher.

2015-2016 Season Highlights

The current edition of the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity team began their season the same way as the 1993-1994 team, with a pair of wins over local rivals Gloversville and Johnstown and continued with a 70-51 win over South Glens Falls on December 10, 2015. However, this Lady Rams team did not have a win streak of more than eight games, but kept their Foothills Council South division record unblemished. The Lady Rams starting five of senior Autumn Duemler, juniors Nina Fedullo and Brady Santiago, and sophomores Giuliana Pritchard and Lucia Liverio, also shared in the scoring in an AHS offense that was averaging more than 50 points per game. But, this Amsterdam team was also about getting everyone in the scoring column. With a group of players off the bench including seniors Rayven Roach, Jailene Irizarry, Gabby Catena, and Braelin Aldi, and juniors Maria Lomanto, Grace Catena and Victoria Barone-Lopez, the team at times had as many as ten players score in a game, with the bench contributing nearly 300 points for the season.

Overtime again

In early January 2016, the Lady Rams held a 4-0, first place record in the South Division heading into another crucial match up with rival Scotia-Glenville. During the 2014-2015 season, the Lady Rams needed a last second shot by Autumn Duemler to win in overtime at AHS. The game at Scotia-Glenville on January 11, 2016 turned out to be another OT thriller. Amsterdam trailed 40-29 headed into the fourth quarter, but Santiago made a trio of three-point shots helping Amsterdam to a 17 point fourth quarter surge and sent the game to overtime. All ten of the Lady Rams points in the extra session came from the free throw line as AHS outscored the Lady Tartans by three, winning 56-53.

“It’s a great feeling, and a team effort,” Santiago said after the game. And, there was plenty more of that as the season went on.

Beating the unbeaten

Amsterdam was on target for a division title late in the season, but the team had to face a Hudson Falls Lady Tigers team that boasted an unbeaten league record headed into their meeting with the Lady Rams at Amsterdam High School on January 21, 2016. The AHS offense led by Santiago and Fedullo, who teamed up for 16 second half points, broke through a Hudson Falls defense that had been holding opponents to less than 40 points per game. The Lady Rams won 49-44 and were finally ranked in the NYSSWA top 25 teams in Class A girls basketball.

Four days later, the Lady Rams clinched their second straight Foothills Council South division with another win over Scotia-Glenville. That game also featured the return of senior Kaitlyn Devine, who came back from a severe ankle sprain to finish her high school basketball career. Devine’s presence helped boost an already talented Lady Rams team as they headed for the record books.

The Mecca

The 2015-2016 Lady Rams played in one of the most prestigious girls high school basketball events in the country in late January 2016 at The Mecca High School Basketball Challenge where they faced a pair of the finest Class AA teams in New York State. The Lady Rams defeated John F Kennedy High School (NYC) 80-53, with Nina Fedullo scoring a career high 37 points to put herself within reach of Amsterdam all time scoring leader Amy Jo Stewart’s 954 career points. Ten players scored in the Lady Rams win. The following day, Amsterdam challenged a top 25 ranked Harry S Truman High School team before falling 55-43. Fedullo was then only 17 shy of a new school scoring mark.

Record breaker

Nina Fedullo became Amsterdam High School’s girls basketball scoring leader with 7:22 left in the third quarter of the “senior night” game against Broadalbin-Perth on February 1, 2016. Fedullo put back her own miss to give her 955 points for her career, and said after the game that she “couldn’t have done it without her team.”

Foothills Council Champs

Much like their predecessor, the 2015-2016 Amsterdam Lady Rams had the best record in their league for the second straight season, but there were no conference title games when the 1993-1994 team played. The 2015-2016 team had one more to play before they could claim a title, and as fate would have it, Amsterdam faced a Glens Falls team that gave them their only league loss in 2015-2016, and had ended Amsterdam’s 16 game win streak the year before. On Thursday, February 4, 2016, it was the Lady Rams turn. Amsterdam was energized by Brady Santiago’s school record seven three-point shots, and career best 25 points, and Santiago also entered the Section 2 record books by hitting more than 40 three-point shots in a single season. Nina Fedullo scored 23 points leaving her only seven points shy of becoming the first Amsterdam girls player to score 1,000 points. Giuliana Pritchard scored six key points in the fourth quarter keeping AHS in front for the 59-56 win. After the game, Pritchard credited every one of her teammates by name, for playing “amazing.”

On to the title game

After earning a second seed in the NYSPHSAA Section 2 Class A tournament, Amsterdam’s home quarter final was against a Mohonasen squad featuring a talented guard in Saeeda Abdul-Aziz. The Lady Rams defense helped overcome a halftime deficit to defeat Mohonasen and advance to the first sectional semi-final since 2008. In the process, Fedullo passed the 1,000 point mark. Three days later, Amsterdam defeated Troy in the semi-finals at Ballston Spa High School. After the game when asked what it would take to win the title Pritchard said, “We have to play with our heads, our hearts and have the guts to win.” That’s just what it would take.

Like the 1993-1994 team, the 2015-2016 Lady Rams also led at halftime of their title contest with defending Class A champion Averill Park. The determination was certainly there, so was the effort, so was the heart. The team trailed by seven in the second half, fought back to take the lead, and later were tied with one minute to play. They fought to the last second. That’s how close they came to winning the school’s first girls sports team sectional championship.

Looking ahead

I have no doubt that the team that takes the floor for the 2016-2017 season will be just as determined to take it one step further. As for the senior members of the Lady Rams, “next year” may have passed, but they have set an example for future teams to follow. Next season’s team will feature plenty of experience in returning juniors Fedullo, Santiago, Lomanto, Grace Catena, and Victoria Barone-Lopez, and sophomores Pritchard and Lucia Liverio.

It’s that concept of the team unity, confidence, and dedication that kept the current edition of the team in contention this season and will carry them into the future. I think they certainly have the potential to break through and win the school’s first girls sports team sectional title.

Earlier this year, the team held a basketball clinic for elementary school aged girls. As I looked at the smiles and heard the enthusiasm in the voices of the young girls they were teaching, it was obvious the Lady Rams were passing on the skills to achieve great things to another generation, who might one day call themselves champions.

About Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.

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