A look ahead at the AHS Lady Rams basketball season

It was only a year ago when the Amsterdam High School Lady Rams varsity basketball team exceeded everyone’s expectations as they went on a 16 game winning streak in their first year facing a host of talented teams on the Foothills Council.  The streak finally ended with a pair of losses to conference rivals Glens Falls and Scotia-Glenville. The 2016 Amsterdam Lady Rams will face an even more challenging schedule that includes one of the top high school girls basketball tournaments in the country. With a roster that includes ten returning players, this year’s team will have plenty of experience to call upon when their season begins this Thursday at Gloversville.

“It makes it easier,” Amsterdam head coach Eric Duemler said of having so many returning varsity players. “We have knowledge of playing together and knowing what we’re doing offensively and defensively.”

Amsterdam spent the better part of early Saturday afternoon scrimmaging the varsity teams from Maple Hill High School and Guilderland High School to help prepare for the new season. However, many of the Lady Rams played basketball during the spring and summer months on Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams getting in even more game time together.

“We played 40 games throughout the spring and summer months,” Coach Duemler said. “This is a dedicated group of girls. They’re a close knit group, like a second family.”

Eight of the current Lady Rams played for the Amsterdam X-Plosion AAU team that Duemler coached this year, including senior forwards Autumn Duemler and Jailene Irizarry, senior center Rayven Roach, junior guards Grace Catena, Maria Lomanto, and Brady Santiago, sophomore forward Giuliana Pritchard, and first year varsity sophomore guard Lucia Liverio, who saw plenty of time at the point guard position Saturday afternoon.

“It helps me in knowing how to play with these girls,” said Liverio on her AAU experience. “I’ve learned where they will be on the court.”

Liverio along with junior guard Victoria Barone-Lopez, and senior center Gabriella Catena represent the new faces on this year’s varsity team. Liverio and Barone-Lopez were part of the junior varsity squad last year, while Gabriella Catena returns to action after recovering from an injury. Each will play a role for varsity this year.

“Lucia is our starting point guard and she’s been doing a good job for us early on,” Duemler said. “Victoria is one of our guards and she learning to be a role player. Gabby is one of our post players and she’s a physically tough, smart kid.”

Liverio will see plenty of action early in the season as both senior point guards Kaitlyn Devine and Braelin Aldi will be recovering from injuries, but she’s had plenty of time to prepare for the role with the AAU team, and has the support of her teammates.

“It’s hard that Kaitlyn and Braelin are out,” said Giuliana Pritchard. “But, Lucia is here and we’re making it work, and it’s coming together nicely.”

Pritchard was second on the team in scoring last year. At the top of that list was junior forward Nina Fedullo, who had a breakout season in 2015 highlighted by a 35 point effort in a win against Scotia-Glenville at AHS which helped Amsterdam clinch the Foothills Council South Division, and a spot in the game between the top two Foothills teams at the Glens Falls Civic Center in the Lady Rams first season in the league. Fedullo spent part of her summer playing for the Saratoga Sparks 16-Under AAU team, and in the first annual Empire State Takeover Girls Summer Showcase League as a member of the Havoc team. The Empire Showcase league is a college prep program featuring many of the top girls high school basketball players in New York state. Fedullo will be a key to Amsterdam’s success.

“Nina’s improved a ton,” Duemler said. “She’s one of our leaders. Nina can score in so many different ways, and she’s a role model for the younger players. She spends time after practice to work on her game, and she cares about this team winning.”

Fedullo put up 274 points last year in the Section 2 New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) season, not counting an early season trip to Canada that put her point total over the 300 mark. Fedullo along with Pritchard (133 points NYSPHSAA), Devine (106 points), and Santiago (95 points) gives Amsterdam four returning starters, and one of it’s strengths. The Lady Rams also have plenty of options to turn to from a talented bench that includes Lomanto, Duemler, Roach, Grace Catena and her older sister Gabriella, Irizarry, and Barone-Lopez.

“We have strengths everywhere,” Pritchard said. “We work well together and share a lot of the same abilities. We have so many options on offense and defense, and it helps that we’re all good friends and we’re comfortable with each other on the court.”

The Lady Rams will be counting on each other as they embark on a challenging schedule that includes a December 14 trip to Glens Falls High School to face a Lady Indians team that they split two games with last year, and one that features Sophie and Lucy Tougas, who were part of the college prep league that Fedullo played in. Amsterdam will host NYSPHSAA Section 3 Class AA teams Baldwinsville and Rome Free Academy in their Amsterdam Holiday Classic on December 28 and 29. Both opponents won 18 games last season. The Lady Rams will also have a pair of games against Saratoga Springs from the Suburban Council, hosting the Lady Blue Streaks on December 12, and visiting the Spa city on January 27, 2016. Amsterdam travels to Foothills Council rival Scotia-Glenville on January 11, and hosts the Lady Tartans on January 25. The Lady Rams will travel to Broadalbin-Perth to take on the Lady Patriots on January 18th, and wrap up the regular season in the Foothills Council hosting BPHS on February 1st.

“Everybody in the Foothills has a lot of kids back,” Duemler said. Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, Scotia- Glenville, they all have a lot of returning players. Gloversville has a pair of talented guards and they will be tough this year.”

Facing a 13 game Foothills Council schedule where more than half the teams in the league made it to sectionals last year will help prepare them for the highlight of the season, a trip to New York City to face some of the best girls high school basketball teams in the country.

The Amsterdam Lady Rams travel to the Bronx, NY for the Mecca Girls High School Basketball Challenge on January 30-31, 2016. The showcase event is hosted by South Shore High School of Brooklyn, NY and the Lady Choz Basketball Club, and will feature some of the top girls high school basketball teams including schools from New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Over 30 college coaches from many programs including NCAA Division 1 schools attended the 2015 event, and are expected for this year’s showcase. The Lady Rams will have a chance to show what they can do at the highest level of high school competition.

“It’s a great spot for us to go and showcase our kids,” said Duemler whose team is sharing a bus with another Mecca Challenge participant, the Shenendehowa Lady Plainsmen of the Suburban Council. “A lot of the girls on this team want to play in college. This gives them a chance to be seen.”

Among those players with college basketball aspirations is Giuliana Pritchard who is only a sophomore yet has played five sports so far in her Amsterdam High School athletic career. Pritchard was the Amsterdam X-plosion most valuable player when they won the Madness on the Mohawk AAU tournament at Amsterdam High School in April 2015, and who says that basketball is her favorite sport. She spent the fall of 2015 as a first year varsity player on the Amsterdam Lady Rams volleyball team where she was among the team leaders in kills and blocks. The new experience helped her prepare for the coming hoops season.

“It kept me in shape,” said Pritchard. “It kept me moving.”

Kaitlyn Devine was a Foothills Council All-Star for the Lady Rams varsity soccer team. Her impending return to the basketball team will provide a spark on offense and defense. It’s no secret that Devine is a fast break waiting to happen.

“Put Kaitlyn Devine in the offense playing at the point and it’s easy points,” Duemler said of the senior who was also part of the Saratoga Sparks AAU team. “She’s so fast when she runs the fast break, and she cares about winning.”

The role of point guard will be the responsibility of Lucia Liverio when Amsterdam takes the floor on Thursday at Gloversville (game time 7pm). Liverio is well aware of the effort that it will take for the Lady Rams to be successful, and where that effort could take them.

“We’re definitely going to have to work hard,” Liverio said.”And we have to because we want to go all the way and win it all this year.”

Duemler and his team don’t need to look far when it comes to staying focused on their goal. Last season started with a pair of losses in a tournament in Canada, was then followed by a remarkable 16 straight wins, but ended with two disappointing losses.

“We use it as motivation,” Duemler said. “During practice and preparation, everybody gets refocused. Not only do we want to win the league, we want to win sectionals. We know that what we do get we’ve earned.”

Winning a Section 2 title would be a first, not only for the basketball team, but for any Amsterdam High School girls sports team. Amsterdam has had girls basketball, softball, and tennis teams reach the sectional final but no championships. This year’s basketball team has the experience and determination to take it to the next level.

“We want to get back to the Civic Center and win sectionals,” Prichard said. “We have the potential and could reach that goal.”

2015-2016 Amsterdam High School varsity girls basketball schedule:

Thurs. December 3 – at Gloversville
Mon. December 7 – vs. Johnstown
Thurs. December 10 – vs. South Glens Falls
Sat. December 12 – vs. Saratoga Springs
Mon. December 14 – at Glens Falls
Thurs. December 17 – vs. Gloversville
Mon. December 28 – vs. Baldwisnville (3pm) – Amsterdam Holiday Showcase Tournament
Tues. December 29 – vs. Rome Free Academy (5pm) – Amsterdam Holiday Showcase Tournament
Mon. January 4 – at Johnstown
Thurs. January 7 – at Queensbury
Mon. January 11 – at Scotia-Glenville
Thurs. January 14 – vs. Schuylerville
Mon. January 18 – at Broadalbin-Perth
Thurs. January 21 – vs. Hudson Falls
Mon. January 25 – vs. Scotia-Glenville
Wed. January 27 – at Saratoga Springs
Sat. January 30 – at Mecca Tournament- Bronx, NY (time TBA)
Sun. January 31 – at Mecca Tournament – Bronx, NY (time TBA)
Mon. February 1 – vs. Broadalbin-Perth
Thurs. February 4 – Foothills Council crossover game (time TBA)

Start times are 7pm unless otherwise noted.

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.