By MICHAEL KELLY
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Through three games, Amsterdam Lady Rams head coach Eric Duemler is encouraged with his team's progress.
"We're fixing things as we go and the girls are definitely improving," said Duemler, at Thursday's practice at Amsterdam High School. "They're having fun and they're a joy to be around."
The Lady Rams are at 1-2 on the season, and Amsterdam enters tonight's home game a heavy underdog to Troy, which is 2-0 and coming off a trip to the state finals a season ago.
But with youth on their side, the Lady Rams are not getting themselves psyched out before the game's opening tip.
"We just have to play hard and keep our head in it," said junior Caitlin Gannon. "We can beat this team if we play as a team."
The Lady Rams already played one of the Big 10's top teams earlier this season, falling 57-32 to Albany after hanging in the game for three quarters. Eighth-grader Guilianna Pritchard said Amsterdam's effort in that game gives them confidence for tonight.
"We stayed in it with Albany, so I think we can stay in it with Troy," Pritchard said.
Tonight's game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
STEP BY STEP
Sophomore Kaitlyn Devine admits that it has not been a smooth start for the Lady Rams.
"Our first few games, they've been bumpy," she said. "They're definitely learning experiences."
"Our team needs to work on a lot of things," freshman Nina Fedullo said.
But that was the expectation coming into the season for the Lady Rams, which boast a roster that includes five players in 10th grade or younger.
"It's a new team," said Gannon. "We're all young and we make mistakes together, but we're a family. We play as a team. ... When someone messes up, we try to boost their confidence."
Pritchard said that the adjustment to the varsity game has not been easy for the team's youngsters.
"The girls we face, they're a lot better players than it was on modified," she said. "I like it, though. It's a good experience."
Duemler said he has developed a system in which the club has a different "point of emphasis" for each week to help it focus on improving one aspect of its game. A week ago, the team worked on its ball handling; this week, the Lady Rams are all about boxing out and playing with more toughness.
The coach laughed when asked if he knew what his team's focus will be for next week.
"Sometimes, I'll know ahead of time," he said. "But we're so young, it's usually day to day."
While many of the Lady Rams are adjusting to the varsity level, Duemler is also going through a transition year.
The large batch of seniors from last year's team consisted mostly three-year players for the Lady Rams, meaning that Duemler's group for this season includes more newcomers than returning players.
"The group we have right now, it's a learning experience every day," he said. "I'm teaching them how to practice in a drill like a varsity team."
Duemler said senior co-captains Monica Rouse and Keely Santiago have helped the team's younger players learn what is expected from them. But the coach said the team's youth still shows on a fairly consistent basis.
"Sometimes we're a little too giggly, a little too happy -- and we don't have a lot to be happy about yet," he said. "Our goal is always to win, to be one of the top teams."
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Midway through last season, Duemler began letting it be known that he thought Fedullo could be a four-year force for the Lady Rams.
So far, Duemler's projection has been apt. The 5-foot-11-inch freshman has increased her scoring in each game for the Lady Rams and is averaging 12.7 points per game to lead the squad.
"She's a gamer," said Duemler. "She hates to lose and she's going to be a great player. She's already showing signs of that."
Duemler said Fedullo's best quality is her willingness to listen to instruction. Wanting to improve, Fedullo knows there are aspects of her game that need work.
"Definitely boxing out and getting more rebounds," said Fedullo. "And looking for the ball more, being more aggressive."
The Lady Rams are already running a good deal of their offense through Fedullo, an unusual role for a freshman to be in for a varsity team.
"She's handled that well," said Duemler. "She's definitely not in over her head."
Duemler said he is confident Fedullo can carry the load for the Lady Rams, and sees his freshman star only getting better with each day.
"If she keeps working hard, she's going to be a college player for sure," Duemler said.
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