By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM - The members of the Amsterdam High School girls basketball team have grown more than a little familiar with each other - and for good reason. After all, six of the 13 players that will be on the Lady Rams' roster when the team opens its season tonight at Albany Leadership Charter are seniors entering their third varsity seasons.
But, it goes a little bit beyond that.
"We've been together, almost all of us, since third grade," senior forward Sarah Fedullo said during practice Tuesday.
"We've literally grown up together," added guard Cristiana Johnson. "We're not even like a team, we're family and we treat each other as sisters. We've always had each others' backs."
For head coach Eric Duemler, that sense of cohesiveness gives him a few luxuries on the bench.
"We're able to do multiple things defensively. We're able to run our offense maybe to a stage where we weren't able to before," Duemler said. "But, even with the experience, we still have to put the ball in the basket and that's something I hope we keep improving on."
Despite their mass of returning players, the Lady Rams do have to replace a good chunk of their scoring punch due to the graduation of guards Maria Lafond, Monique Pucci and Dominique Pucci, who were all key offensive pieces a season ago after transferring to Amsterdam from Schenectady for their senior seasons.
This year, with a group that includes Johnson, Fedullo, point guard Ashlee McDonald and forwards Kelly Paris, Katie Ressel, Latifa Woods-Walker and junior Monica Rouse, AHS certainly isn't lacking for options. While Johnson said that Lady Rams might not have one focal star player, the team's depth and versatility makes them extremely dangerous.
"We don't have a lot of main stars, but we play together as a team," she said.
Last season, Duemler brought that team philosophy to the forefront by using a 10-player rotation that saw him substitute with two banks of five players - one group playing zone defense, the other playing a full-court press. This year, the coach said he was planning to use a more traditional rotation of eight or nine players.
The trick now is settling on the personnel groupings he trusts the most on the floor.
"We have a lot of players that are at about the same skill level, so there's a lot of good competition fighting for minutes," he said.
From what he's observed so far, Duemler said that the Lady Rams' success this season will likely hinge on how well the team prevents opponents from crashing the offensive glass.
"We're gonna be a team that has to rebound," he said. "We play pretty good defense on that first shot, so hopefully we rebound well enough that we keep teams to one shot and we'll be right there. We're not a team that'll score 70 points a game, we're a team that has to keep the score down."
One thing Duemler has seen in his team so far throughout preseason practices and scrimmages is a definite product of the Lady Rams' wealth of experience - more maturity on the court and a higher basketball IQ. He's hopeful that will help his squad take a step forward from last season's 7-13 campaign that saw the Lady Rams beat Albany Leadership in the opening round of the Section II Class A playoffs before bowing out against Holy Names in the quarterfinals.
"We're a smarter team than we were last year," Duemler said. "We're not making as many mistakes throughout our scrimmages, and if we do make a mistake we're able to fix it the first time. It's not something I have to keep reminding them of throughout a scrimmage or throughout a period of time. They fix it quicker."
McDonald chalks much of that up to a greater sense of leadership and responsibility in the Lady Rams' locker room than has been present in some previous seasons.
"A couple years ago, we didn't have the leaders that we should've had," she said. "Now, I feel like everyone's stepping up to the plate and we have a couple leaders that we can look to."