Lady Rams basketball embarks on another ambitious schedule

The 2015-2016 high school basketball season was marked with accomplishment for the Amsterdam High School Lady Rams varsity team. Among them were the team’s first outright Foothills Council championship, and an appearance in a sectional championship game for only the second time in school history. The Amsterdam girls basketball program also had a new all time scoring leader before the season was through as junior Nina Fedullo passed Amy Jo Stewart for the top spot on the list and became the first AHS girls basketball player to score 1,000 points in a career. As the 2016-2017 high basketball season dawns the Lady Rams embark on another ambitious schedule that will once again take them to big city tournaments, this year in New York City and Boston, as well as facing one of the best programs in the state in their own tournament in December, and of course another competitive season in the talent filled Foothills Council. There are some new faces on the varsity roster who bring the same competitive energy as those that recently graduated. The goal however remains the same: win the schools first sectional title for a girls sports team.

“It’s all they think about,” Amsterdam coach Eric Duemler said after a recent scrimmage.

The 2015-2016 basketball season did not end the way that the Lady Rams had pictured it would. The Lady Rams took a 15-5 record into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 Class A playoffs. A 59-56 victory over Glens Falls in the Foothills Council championship contest helped them earn the number two seed in the tournament and a quarterfinal home game against Mohonasen. Victories over the Lady Warriors and later Troy in the semi- finals put Amsterdam in its first sectional title game since 1994. On February 27, 2016 the Amsterdam Lady Rams battled top seeded Averill Park for the championship and led late in the second half only to fall short of their goal, 68-63. The loss however only deepened the resolve for a talented Lady Rams team that returns four of its starting five including senior Nina Fedullo, who comes into the season with 1,059 points for her career.

“It’s my senior season and I’m going to enjoy it,” Fedullo said. “I’ve been playing basketball with some of the girls on this team since I was seven years old. We want to win the sectional championship.”

It took 27 years, but on February 1, 2016, Nina Fedullo was the one who broke Amy Jo Stewart’s career scoring record for Amsterdam girls basketball. On a free throw in the second quarter of the Lady Rams home game against Broadalbin-Perth, on senior night, Fedullo scored point 955.

“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Fedullo said after that game.

Fedullo will once again have plenty of help from a talented Lady Rams team that includes three more returning starters, among them senior Brady Santiago, who was second in scoring last year with 217 points and gave the Lady Rams a dependable scoring option from behind the three point arc by making 44 three point shots during the 2015- 2016 season. Santiago’s efforts were key in Amsterdam’s win over Glens Falls in the Foothills Council title game where she connected for seven triples tying a school record, and in the process put herself in the NYSPHSAA record book for scoring from long distance more than 40 times. Fedullo and Santiago will be joined in the starting lineup by juniors Giuliana Pritchard and Lucia Liverio.

Pritchard enters her fourth season on the AHS varsity team, and is also climbing on the all time scoring list having posted the third best total on the team last year with 186 points. More importantly, Pritchard gives the Lady Rams a strong presence in the front court where she was among the team leaders in rebounds at both ends of the floor. That will certainly help a Lady Rams team that lost both Autumn Duemler (117) points and Raven Roach to graduation. Both Pritchard and Fedullo were active in the summer playing for elite AAU basketball teams that travel the country playing in tournaments. Fedullo played for the New York Havoc, while Pritchard was with the Saratoga Sparks. During a recent scrimmage at AHS, Pritchard showed that her game was developing just as Fedullo’s has been over the last few years. Pritchard stepped back behind the three point arc and connected for a pair of shots, something she did not do in recent years.

“She’s very good at it,” Coach Duemler said on Pritchard’s long distance shooting.”Both Nina and Giuliana really can do everything on the court.”

The Lady Rams also return with an experienced point guard in Lucia Liverio, who started most of the 2015-2016 season at the position while Kaitlyn Devine recovered from an early season injury. With Devine now graduated, Liverio is more than ready to guide the Lady Rams offense. Liverio was sixth in scoring last season with 57 points, but often made them when it counted. An early fourth quarter three point shot in a game against Gloversville helped the Lady Rams build the momentum it needed for a comeback win, and in the Class A title game, Liverio put a stop to an Averill Park run by hitting a three point shot in the final seconds of the first half helping AHS keep its lead. Liverio also was among the team leaders in steals helping the Lady Rams in transition, and helped stabilize the AHS offense by often not turning the ball over including no turnovers in that same early season win at Gloversville. But, while four returning starters give the Lady Rams plenty of experience, deciding who the fifth starter will be hasn’t been an easy task for Coach Duemler.

“That’s been the dilemma,” Coach Duemler said. “I’ve told the girls that they are being evaluated ever time they’re on the floor. I don’t know who the fifth starter will be, and this is the first time in a long while I haven’t yet decided on a first group in.”

But, that isn’t such a bad thing. Whatever option Duemler chooses will benefit the Lady Rams as was evidenced in recent scrimmages against Section 2 Class AA champion Shenendehowa, Berne- Knox-Westerlo, and Cobleskill-Richmondville, the latter two of which Amsterdam scored a total of 97 points against.

Among the options Duemler has to choose from include senior Maria Lomanto, who was fifth in scoring for Amsterdam last season with 124 points, many of them coming from three point range.

Duemler said that Lomanto connected for seven three point shots in the Lady Rams scrimmage with Shenendehowa, that makes her a long range threat to compliment Santiago, or step in for her off the bench. Lomanto can also play the forward position as well. Another potential starter is senior Grace Catena (56 points in 2015-2016), who has been on the court with the new additions to the varsity roster running the offense during scrimmages.

“Grace is an all around good player,” Coach Duemler said. “She’s a good shooter, a good passer, and she’s going to be someone, who if not starting will be one of the first off the bench.”

Catena started one game for the Lady Rams in 2015-2016, a 49-27 win over Schuylerville at AHS. The Lady Rams were most effective when both Catena and Fedullo were on the court together as they teamed up for 27 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals, and that’s something the Lady Rams will likely see more of this year. Joining the varsity team this year are juniors Taylor Flint and Gianna Derosa, sophomore Elena Fedullo, and senior Janina Sjoberg, an exchange student from Finland.

“She’s playing catch up,” Coach Duemler said of Sjoberg, who played for the AHS girls varsity tennis team as a doubles player. “Coming from playing recreation type basketball in Finland, she’s playing catch up skill-wise. The girls like her and she’s a pretty good player. The more she learns and as her skills improve, the more plays we’ll be able to run at her.”

Taylor Flint, Gianna Derosa, and Elena Fedullo are already familiar playing together from the junior varsity level over the past two seasons. Each of them brings skills to help the Lady Rams on offense and defense, and helps give them depth anywhere on the court, something the Lady Rams will need on a team with only ten on its roster.

“They can play just about every position,” Coach Duemler said. “They do a little bit of everything.”

Flint and Elena Fedullo will help the Lady Rams in the front court and be counted on for rebounds as well as scoring. Derosa will be the back up point guard, and also be counted on for scoring, a familiar role for her and one that they she played well on the junior varsity team. Derosa also showed a fearless attitude battling for rebounds against taller players during a recent scrimmage.

“Gianna will back up Lucia at the point and play shooting guard as well,” Coach Duemler said.

Most of the Amsterdam team stayed together over the summer playing AAU basketball against other capital district teams, and participated in tournaments. Building teamwork is something that could pay off in another trip to the sectional championship in early 2017.

“They’re very unselfish,” Coach Duemler said after a recent scrimmage. “Today I saw great ball movement, and open lay ups and open jump shots. As a coach that’s what you want to see.”

That unselfish team play is something that the Lady Rams will depend on as they head into an ambitious schedule that begins on Wednesday with a home game against Suburban Council power Niskayuna and talented 6′ 4” center Olivia Owens. Amsterdam will also travel to New York City and Boston for games against some top high school programs in the country as well as facing some talented competition in their own Holiday Showcase tournament in late December.

“This is one of our tougher schedules that we’ve had here,” Coach Duemler said.

Amsterdam will open Foothills Council play on December 12 at Gloversville High School to play a talented Lady Dragon team that returns most of its varsity roster and starters including Harmony Philo and Jasmine Gonzalez. The Lady Rams Foothills Council home opener will follow on December 15 against Johnstown. The Foothills Council South Division once again looks to be very competitive in 2016-2017 with Scotia-Glenville boasting a lineup that includes all-stars Caitlin Estes and Mary Kate Palleschi. Three of the last four games between the Lady Rams and Lady Tartans have been decided in overtime.

“Gloversville is good and so is Scotia-Glenville,” Coach Duemler said. “Our division is going to be tough this year.”

The Lady Rams head to New York City on December 17 for their first tournament of the season. Amsterdam will be part of a 22 team field competing in the 2016 Hoops Queens Winter Ball Elite Womens’ Basketball Showcase at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, NY. The Lady Rams opponent on that Saturday will be St. Josephs High School of Brooklyn, NY. Nearly 70 college coaches attended last years event with some from Division 1 college programs. The tournament features some of the top girls high school basketball teams in the northeast. A home game against Queensbury (Dec. 19), and a short road trip to Broadalbin- Perth on December 22nd lead up to the Lady Rams own holiday showcase tournament at the end of 216.

The Lady Rams have also expanded their own Holiday College Showcase for 2016, an event that will bring 16 of the top high school girls teams in the state to the Amsterdam High School gym during the weekend of December 27-28. The Lady Rams will be joined by Foothills Council rivals Scotia- Glenville and Gloversville along with Suburban Council teams including Section 2 Class AA champion Shenendehowa, as well as Guilderland, Bethlehem, and Columbia. The Lady Rams will have another tough task taking on NYSPHSAA Section 3 Class AA champion Cicero- North Syracuse in their opening game on Saturday. Amsterdam will face a team from Simsbury, CT on that Sunday.

The Lady Rams face three of their toughest Foothills Council opponents to start 2017 with a home contest against Scotia-Glenville on January 5th, followed by road trips to Hudson Falls (Jan. 9), and South Glens Falls (Jan. 12), all leading up to their second tournament trip of the season to Emmanuel College in Boston, MA on Saturday, January 14th where they will play the Massachusetts state girls basketball runner up in New Mission High School.

“It’s a really gorgeous court,” Coach Duemler said of the Emmanuel College facility. “And it’s a good match up. We come out of it near the end of the season and we’ll be ready for sectionals.”

The challenges won’t end there. Amsterdam hosts the Section 2 Class B champion Glens Falls team featuring sisters Lucy and Sophie Tougas on January 19th. Glens Falls handed the Lady Rams their own Foothills Council loss last season back on December 14, 2015 at Glens Falls High School. Amsterdam avenged that loss with a victory in the league title contest at the Glens Falls Civic Center on February 4, 2016. Amsterdam travels to Niskayuna on January 24th before wrapping up its Foothills Council schedule with games at Johnstown (Jan. 26), at Scotia- Glenville (Feb. 2), and at Schuylerville (Feb. 9). The Lady Rams will also have late season home games with Gloversville on January 30th, and will host Broadalbin- Perth for senior night on February 6th.

A formidable schedule awaits a team of only ten players who will represent the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity basketball team this season. But, numbers don’t matter, achieving their goal does.

“We want to win a sectional title,” Coach Duemler said. “This team has a lot of flexibility with good shooters throughout the lineup. We have only ten players, but all ten can play and that gives us plenty of depth.”

“Defense, staying competitive, and continuing to work hard,” added Nina Fedullo on what it will take to reach the goal of becoming the schools first girls sports programs sectional champions.

One thing is certain, the Amsterdam Lady Rams basketball team’s follow-up act to its appearance in the sectional championship game last season will once again bring another year of exciting hoops action to the AHS gym. The 2016-2017 season begins on Wednesday. Tip time for the varsity game with Niskayuna is scheduled for 7pm.

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.