Amherst Magazine

Sports: Bottling Energy

by Alex Kantor

Stephanie Reiff '08
Stephanie Reiff '08 is one of a
trio of seniors on the squad.

 

Forward Yasmine Harik ’09 still remembers the evening in 2006 when the women’s basketball squad faced Hamilton College at home. “We beat them easily,” she smiles. It was a different story a year later, on Jan. 9, 2007, at a rematch in Clinton, N.Y. The Hamilton women brought a new weapon: G.P. Gromacki, their interim head coach. “Hamilton beat us rather soundly,” sighs Harik, who is from Rye Brook, N.Y. “They went on to win their conference and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That in itself spoke loud and clear.”

Now, Gromacki is the new face behind the bench at Amherst. A Western Massachusetts native, he took over this summer for veteran head women’s basketball coach Billy McBride, who has been promoted to assistant athletic director and head of community engagement for the athletic department. Gromacki has charged the women’s basketball program with energy. If he can continue the success he’s found elsewhere, Amherst will soon be atop the NESCAC and national leaderboards.

Having lost only one player to graduation last May, this year’s squad is deep and promising. Amherst returns a trio of seniors in Shaina Pollack ’08, Anne-Claire Roesch ’08 and Stefanie Reiff ’08. Last season’s leader in scoring and rebounding, Reiff, of Hinsdale, Ill., was a second-team All-NESCAC selection last season. She is now on the front line with the reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Sam Swen­sen ’10, who is from Rockaway Park, N.Y.

Gromacki
G.P. Gromacki is new to the Amherst coaching staff,
but he has spent a lot of time in Alumni Gymnasium.


Early last season, the Amherst squad rolled off five straight wins, including three on the road, to stand at 6-3. But by the season’s mid-point, the women had stumbled to an overall 7-7 record. Still, heading into the challenging conference schedule, the Jeffs stayed strong, winning five of their next six games, with the lone loss coming at home, to Williams. It was a thriller of a match. While Amherst lost to the Ephs by six points, Swensen, with 23 points, emerged as a go-to presence inside, and the team gained confidence moving forward.

The squad ended last year on a sour note, losing the final five games. But today, the women are buzzing with a new attitude. “The anticipation, the determination and, most of all, the desire to perform at a totally different level is contagious,” Harik says. “There is a positive energy behind every­thing our team does, from conditioning and lifting to pick-up games—even to team dinners. I think all of us, and especially the upperclassmen, are driven by a sense of urgency.” Now the team has to bottle that energy and put it toward a winning season.

Gromacki may be new to the Amherst coaching staff, but he has spent a lot of time in Alumni Gymnasium. Growing up in South Deerfield, Mass., he attended summer camps led by Dave Hixon ’75, head coach of men’s basketball. For the past 10 years, Gromacki has devoted time each summer to coaching at Hixon’s Western Massachusetts Basketball Camp. “It means everything to me to be back in Western Massachusetts,” Gromacki says. “Amherst is one of the finest institutions in the country. To have it located where I grew up is the icing on the cake.”

Sam Swenson '10
Sam Swenson '10, reigning Rookie of
the Year, in a Tufts University match-
up last January.


Gromacki graduated from Ohio State University and then joined Saint Lawrence University as an associate head coach for the 1997-98 season. He was promoted to head coach the following year. He led the Saints to the team’s first 20-win season in program history, and then to five more 20-win seasons in as many years. The Saints qualified for the NCAA tournament in five of those six seasons, earning a trip to the national championship game in 2002.

In time, Division I beckoned. Gromacki left Saint Lawrence in 2004 to become assistant coach at Temple University. During his two seasons at Temple, Gromacki helped lead the Owls to a pair of Atlantic-10 conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths. Gromacki left Temple to become interim head coach at Hamilton, where, last season, he led the program to its first-ever Liberty League Tournament championship—and to the college’s first NCAA Tournament berth.

“He has a great reputation for turning programs in the winning direction,” says Swensen, the reigning Rookie of the Year. “I don’t think I’m alone in saying I envisioned him taking us to our first national championship.” Like Swenson, Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey has high expectations for Gromacki. “During his time at St. Lawrence,” Coffey says, “he took the team to the level where we want to ultimately be.”

The Jeffs opened their 2007-08 campaign at the Amherst Invitational on Nov. 17 at home. After a pair of early season tournaments, the women will settle in to their non-conference and NESCAC schedules. While every game will be important this season, the team has a few special dates circled on the calendar, not least of which is Jan. 12, when the Jeffs square off against Williams at home.

Kantor is director of sports information at Amherst.

Photos: Charles Quigg '09 and Samuel Masinter '04