By ADAM SHINDER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Every time a successful spike came over the net during Thursday afternoon's practice, Amsterdam High School volleyball coach Christine Sherlock let out a cry of, "Bayley who?"
The "Bayley" in question is Bayley Archinal, the two-time Big 10 most valuable player and four-year star middle hitter who the Lady Rams lost to graduation at the end of the last academic year. And as much encouragement as veteran coach Sherlock -- who enters the season with 213 career wins -- can give, she also acknowledged that the loss of Archinal leaves a huge void on a team that will open the season Tuesday at home against Gloversville with just three returning contributors and a slew of young, inexperienced players who will be forced to learn fast.
"(Bayley's) an amazing player, but what are we gonna do? She's not here, and we're gonna go with what we have," Sherlock said. "These kids, I have to say, they do everything I tell them to do, they want to get better. I think a lot of the younger ones, they kind of idolize Bayley and they want to be her."
With Archinal gone, the leadership role for the Lady Rams falls to returning seniors Lei Lei Secor and Cassidy Arocho, along with junior outside hitter Destinee Smith. Despite being a junior, Smith is the Lady Rams' most experienced player, with a couple of summers of club volleyball in addition to her time on the AHS varsity team.
"She's a junior, but she'll be kind of like my senior leadership," Sherlock said.
Smith, Arocho and Secor said they understand the importance their experience will bring to a Lady Rams team that's undergone a complete facelift from the 2012 team that finished 6-6 in Big 10 play and bowed out to powerhouse Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the first round of the Section II Class A playoffs.
"We're working hard, trying to fix our errors and getting everybody together as a team," Smith said. "We've been working at it since day one. Ever since tryouts, we've been working our hardest."
"Communication is the key to a lot of things," Arocho added. "We've just got to work together and help each other out."
Amsterdam's group of newcomers is aware of the difficult path ahead of them, but there's plenty of enthusiasm there. Sophomore middle hitter Gabby Catena -- who will be joined by junior Cassandra Santiago in filling the void left by Archinal -- said that being thrown into the varsity pressure cooker so quickly is good for the group.
"We're getting closer, because we're a younger team and we've all been put together in a bunch," Catena said.
Sherlock's expecting the growing pains, but said she can see progress every day. Saturday, the Lady Rams took part in a tournament at Broadalbin-Perth, and while the team left without a single win, Sherlock said the team left the gym after a long day as a much different group.
"I would say they went from being borderline embarrassing to progressing through the day to somewhat respectable, and they felt good about it," she said. "We didn't win a game, but they felt good about the day, and I have to admire them for that, because they want to get better and they're working to get better. They have great attitudes about it."
If the youngsters can jell quickly, well, Smith said she believes the sky's the limit.
"We're gonna try to make it as far as we can and prove that we are good enough to go as far as we want to," she said. "Maybe Big 10 champs, who knows?"