With an off-balance hoist late in her freshman year, Megan Gaugler was suddenly thrust into the Section II girls’ basketball spotlight.
She’s stayed there for three years now because of her ability to make the big shot, but also because of her steady progression as an all-around player.
“Sometimes, athletes will bottom out as sophomores and juniors, but that’s not the case with her,” Amsterdam basketball coach Eric Duemler said of his smart, savy senior point guard. “She’s had the jumper forever, but she’s continually added to her game and expanded her repertoire.
“Her foot speed has improved, and she’s getting to the basket better. We talked about handling pressure, and now she’s dribbling lower. She’s multi-dimensional, and that’s such a huge thing for us. She’s not just a spot up shooter anymore.”
Yet it was that shot against Shenendehowa in the sectional quarterfinals in 2005 that brought the attention for the first time to the tall, blonde farm kid.
She took an inbound pass from Brittany Stahura with seconds left that February night, turned and fired, and hit what she thought was a three. The basket was called a two, and Shenendehowa won, 40-39, in a controversial finish.
“I wasn’t even supposed to get the ball. Our two shooters were coming off screens, and I was the last option,” Gaugler, a midseason junior varsity callup that season, recalled. “No one was open, so I went to the ball, Brittany took it out, and I threw it up. It was close, but I know I wasn’t on the line. It was a weird situation to be in . . . I was only a freshman.
“It’s something I remember in the back of my mind. It comes back mostly when we play Shenendehowa. It’s a motivator.”
Gaugler has been a motivater and vital cog in the Lady Rams’ run of success since that defeat, with her points, ball handling, strong defensive work and leadership helping them put together a 50-6 record. The Lady Rams have won 32 of their last 33 games, including an early-season 59-49 shocker against New York City power Christ the King, and have gained the No. 1 state Class AA ranking.
“Going down there, we didn’t
really expect to win. We talked about being competitive, but we led almost the entire game,” Gaugler said. “In the fourth quarter, when time was running out, it was like, we’re really going to do this. It was like something out of a movie. It was unbelievable. And it wasn’t just one person doing something. The whole team stepped up and played unbelievable.”
Gaugler scored 20 points against CTK, netted 20 and 16 in Amsterdam’s most recent wins over Big 10 contenders Bishop Maginn and Albany and has reached double digits in every game but one. The 5-foot-10 team captain is averaging a team-high 15 points to go along with two steals, over four rebounds and nearly five assists for the 11-0 Lady Rams.
“She’s always been a big-time player,” Duemler said of the Daily Gazette and Big 10 first-team all-star, who set a school record with 57 three-point baskets last season. “She wants to take the big shot, make the big play, get to the line.”
Duemler gave Gaugler the keys to do so last season on a full-time basis, and she averaged over 13 points per game in a balanced Amsterdam offense. She netted a career-high 28 points in a win over Schenectady, and had 21 in a sectional win over Columbia.
“If she’s passing up good shots, I’m on her case. She always has the green light, unless we’re looking for something special,” Duemler said. “That’s earned. She puts in time shooting year-round. She deserves that right.”
Gaugler’s expanded role as a junior included a move to the point guard and to the head of Amsterdam’s pressing defenses, and she excelled in both capacities, serving as a sparkplug during a 21-game winning streak.
“She rarely gets beat off the dribble. She knows how to defend. She’s not the quickest out there, but she uses intelligence and her long reach to stymie quicker guards,” Duemler said. “She causes a lot of turnovers, and when we have the ball, she doesn’t turn it over very often. This year, she’s averaging less than three turnovers a game, and she has the ball a lot.”
“I do what I need to do to help us win. No matter what it is,” said the 17-year-old all-state performer, who has been playing organized ball since she was in the second grade. “We’ve got our two main goals — win the Big 10 again, and second, win Section II. We lost to Colonie last year, and we were so close. We remember that, but we don’t talk about it too much.”
Though a reserved student, Duemler says Gaugler sends a very loud message with her diligence and demeanor, likening Gaugler to her role model, former Lady Rams standout Katie Seward.
“People talk about leadership. It’s not always the most vocal kid,” Duemler said. “She never misses practice. She’s never late for anything. She works hard in every drill. She’s a great role model. I tell the JV kids, ‘Watch how she carries herself on the floor.’ ”
Gaugler carries herself quite well in the classroom, as well, with a 98 career average that ranks No. 2 in her class. She is believed to be the first Amsterdam junior to take AP calculus, and is currently taking an on-line calculus 2 class in preparation for her studies in genetics at Skidmore College.
Gaugler intends to play basketball at Skidmore, although she has the ability to compete at a higher level.
“My main priority is high academics. When I was looking, it didn’t matter how high [division level] the basketball was,” Gaugler said. “Skidmore is known as a big arts school, but over the last few years, the science program has really picked up. Skidmore made the Princeton Review. It’s a good school, plus, I didn’t want to go too far away from home.”
“She’s a very focused individual, very goal-oriented, has been since I met her in middle school,” Duemler said of the math and science whiz. “For her, it came down to academics first, and that really is the right choice. None of our girls are going to make the WNBA.”
But Gaugler and the rest of the Lady Rams could make school history with a first Section II championship. The Lady Rams ended one lengthy drought last season by winning their first Big 10 title since 1994.
“If we keep winning, the target gets bigger and bigger,” said Gaugler. “That means we have to keep working. We can’t afford to let down. We have to keep improving so we can stay on top.”
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