The Secaucus High School junior has been a total standout from the minute she stepped on the floor for the Patriots some two and a half years ago. Ulrich has played anywhere and everywhere for the Patriots, roaming from guard to forward to even center, helping the Patriots capture the Hudson County Tournament title a year ago and has the Patriots rolling along at 17-1 this season, as the county tourney approaches next week.
“She’s shooting 53 percent from two-point range,” veteran head coach John Sterling said. “She’s getting to the basket more. She’s done a better job with her free throws. I think she worked hard on her body to get a little stronger around the basket. She has always worked very hard, so I can’t say anything bad about that. She’s had a really good year on focusing on things she needed to do.”
Ulrich merely earned Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors last season, averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game for the Patriots, who won their second Hudson County Tournament title in the last three years.
In terms of talent, Ulrich is unmatched – even in her own family, which reads like a list of Secaucus royalty.
First, there is Amanda’s older sister, Kristina, who was featured here as the Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week just two years ago, on Jan. 10, 2016.
But Amanda also has talented cousins, like Cory and Danielle Roesing, both of whom were Hudson Reporter Female Athletes of the Year during their playing days. Cory Roesing is currently the head volleyball coach at Secaucus.
There are also the Roesing boys, namely Ed, Bobby and Sean, who were all great multi-sport athletes during their heyday at Secaucus. Ed Roesing is the head wrestling coach at Secaucus High.
There are also the Schlemms, namely Zac, Kyle and Katelyn, all great Secaucus multi-sport athletes in their own right. The Schlemms are cousins to Amanda as well.
And then there’s her aunt, Sheila Ulrich Rivera, who was a great athlete during her days and had two highly successful stints as the head volleyball coach at the school, before turning the reins over to her niece Cory last year. Got all that?
So it was only natural that Amanda follow in the family business – and she’s done incredibly well since the first day she joined the Secaucus girls’ basketball program. Amanda also plays volleyball, but we’ll concentrate on the basketball side for now.
“I loved growing up and going to the park to play with my cousins,” Ulrich said. “They’re all very athletic. I love having a big family in this town.”
There was only one slight problem with the way Ulrich played – and that was her facial disposition and demeanor.
If something went wrong during a game, Ulrich would make a distorted face, offer words of displeasure, maybe offer a pout or two. It was not the look that one of the best all-around performers in northern New Jersey should be offering – and Sterling knew it.
“She can be a real sweetheart when she wants to be,” Sterling said. “But she has to be able to control her emotions. I don’t think you could say that she had a bad attitude. But it certainly appeared that way. She always had that face on. She never had a bad attitude, but she made people think that she did by the way she acted.”
Before this season began, Sterling and Ulrich had a little heart-to-heart conversation about her mannerisms and emotions.
“Since my freshman year, I had it in my head that I had to complain all the time to the refs,” Ulrich said. “Coach Sterling said that the refs would never give me a call if I continued. I never really realized it. When we had this talk, I agreed with him. I had a problem and I had to work hard to fix it.”
Sterling told Ulrich that when college coaches and recruiters would come to see her play, they just might fold up their coach’s dossier and head for the door at the first sight of Ulrich moaning, complaining and making faces.
“You never know who’s watching,” Sterling said.
“I told myself that I had to stop,” Ulrich said. “I had to calm down. It was hurting my teammates. I had to stick to it. Coach Sterling is always right. I always have to listen to him. When I do listen to him, I realize he’s on point.”
So this season, Ulrich has made a concerted effort to relax, play basketball and simply enjoy life.
“I feel like I’ve been improving on that,” Ulrich said of her behavior. “I think my attitude is better. I’ve made a point of it and improved on it.”
Incredibly, Ulrich’s performance has blossomed with the change of demeanor. She’s averaging 21 points per game on the season and the Patriots proudly own a 17-1 record, steamrolling toward perhaps another county title.
In the last week or so, the last six games, Ulrich has been unconscious, putting up statistical numbers never before seen in Secaucus.
Over the last 12 days, the Patriots have played six games and won all six. Ulrich had 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Dwight-Englewood, had 16 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in one game against Lyndhurst and 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in another against Lyndhurst. She also had 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals against Ridgefield and had 30 points, seven rebounds in one game against Leonia and tossed in 19 points, six assists and six rebounds in another game against Leonia (a makeup of a game postponed due to snow in January).
So it means over that stretch of six games, Ulrich is averaging 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists per game. That is just downright dominating the opposition – and all now with a smile on her face.
For her efforts, Ulrich has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week, now holding the same level of distinction that older sister Kristina did two years ago. Kristina Ulrich is now an athlete at William Paterson, but is sitting out this semester due to injury.
Ulrich has changed her approach on the hardwood. She’s going to the basket more and getting fouled, which means more free throw opportunities.
“I feel like I’ve improved on going to the basket and working on finishing,” Ulrich said. “That’s what I worked on during the AAU season [during the summer and fall with the New Jersey Bulls]. I like it better that way and I think I’m tough enough to handle getting hit and going to the line. I’m also making my free throws more. If I focus on making free throws, I’ll score more and help the team. I think everyone expects us to be an outside shooting team, but we can go to the basket well. When I do that, it makes us a strong team.”
Because she stands 5-foot-7, Ulrich is basically a “tweener,” meaning she’s a player without a true position.
“But to be honest, I like being able to play everywhere,” Ulrich said. “I think it’s better for me and the team. If I can play everywhere, trying different positions, I might get better looks from the colleges.”
Ulrich is only a junior, so the flood of college attention hasn’t really fully begun yet. But being a “tweener,” not tall enough to be a true power forward and not quick enough to be a true point guard, may hurt her college opportunities. That’s why Sterling knew the facial expressions and overall demeanor had to be altered.
“I realize that,” Ulrich said. “I’m fine with that. I’m fine with whatever he says to me. I trust Coach Sterling with everything.”
“She had a good year last year, but she still had to keep working harder this year,” Sterling said. “I think she’s a guard, but we basically have her playing forward out of necessity. She’s made significant improvement.”
Sterling recalled a testy period when Ulrich was a freshman.
“I told her that she used up all the patience I was going to have with her in her first month with us,” Sterling said. “She always had that face going. I wanted her to let people see the good side of Amanda. She’s grown up. She’s so much more mature.”
Ulrich has already scored 1,350 points in her career. The school record is owned by Andrea Innis, another former Hudson Reporter Player of the Year. Innis tallied 1,903 points in her career that ended in 2011, earning Reporter Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011. Barring an injury, Ulrich could become the first athlete in the school’s rich athletic history to eclipse the 2,000-point barrier.
Ulrich is finally free of any distractions – and it’s showing in her play. If she continues to dominate the way she has in recent games, then the Patriots will be a tough opponent in the upcoming county and state playoffs.
“It’s really been fun,” Ulrich said. “I always wanted to play basketball. Someone in my family wanted me to become a dancer. I actually did dance for two days, but then I quit so I could play basketball. We have a big goal and that’s to win the county again and the states. We talk about it every day. Everyone is going to be coming after us. If we can win again, that would be great, because it’s never been done before. Winning the county championship again is a really big goal.” – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.