Eight Players to Watch
By Ben Kaplan '09
The 2007-08 winter season ended with two NESCAC titles, one national quarterfinal appearance, a pair of national runner-up finishes and 10 individual national championships. With the new winter season just getting underway, we now present eight athletes—four sophomores and four seniors—whom we expect to have breakout years.
From left: Karega, Anderson, Robinson, Meaghan Stern,
Baskauskas, Leyman, Kendra Stern and La Rose
For the men’s basketball team to make a fourth consecutive appearance in the national semifinals, Brian Baskauskas ’09 must step into the leading role. A starter on both the 2007 national championship team and the 2008 national runner-up squad, the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter knocked down 56.7 percent of his field goals and 47.9 percent of his three-pointers last season (both fifth best in the NESCAC), as well as 85.9 percent of his free throws (fifth best in Amherst history).
After a sophomore campaign in which he scored 11.1 points and grabbed a team-high 5.3 rebounds-per-game, Baskauskas upped his scoring average to 12.0 as a junior. The team’s only returning starter, he sits only 249 points away from becoming the 23rd men’s player in Amherst history to score 1,000 career points. The Lord Jeffs lost two-thirds of their scoring to graduation and will need to fill the holes left by the most successful class in program history, making Baskauskas’ role all the more important.
Last year, sisters Meaghan ’09 and Kendra Stern ’11 led the women’s swimming and diving team to its second-straight runner-up finish by helping to win the 400-yard medley relay and to set NCAA Championship records in both the 800- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
Kendra was just as dominant in the individual events, beating the previous 500-yard freestyle mark by almost three seconds and breaking the 200-yard freestyle time by almost two seconds. Her big sister was always close behind, finishing second in the 200 and sixth in the 500. In the 100-yard freestyle, Kendra took home another win and came only three-tenths of a second away from yet another national record, with Meaghan picking up valuable team points by placing 13th. With the loss of two-time NCAA Championship Swimmer of the Meet Brittany Sasser ’08, the focus will undoubtedly shift toward the Stern sisters in 2009.
Much to the delight of head men’s hockey coach Jack Arena ’83, the two best young goaltenders in the NESCAC both happen to play for Amherst. Jonathan La rose ’11 and Cole Anderson ’11 began their collegiate careers by finishing one-two in the NESCAC in save percentage, with La Rose earning an All-NESCAC Second Team selection for leading the conference in goals against average (2.12) and winning percentage (.773).
Despite facing college slap shots for the first time, La Rose and Anderson both excelled in big games as first-years. La Rose made 30 stops in a 3-1 win over defending national champion Oswego State and turned away 35 shots in a 3-2 win over nationally ranked NESCAC foe Bowdoin College. Against eighth-ranked Southern Maine, Anderson held the opposition scoreless in the third period and in overtime to hold on for a tie. Anderson also earned a win against 11th-ranked Babson, picking up an impressive 38 saves during the 6-4 victory.
Anderson and La Rose have the potential to lead the Jeffs to their first-ever NESCAC title.
Tarasai Karega ’09 will lead the women’s ice hockey team on its quest for a third-straight NESCAC crown and NCAA tournament appearance. The speedy standout forward was named to the All-NESCAC First Team during her sophomore campaign after leading Division III in game-winning goals (eight) and helping the Jeffs to their first NCAA appearance. Last winter, Karega tallied 15 more goals and earned All-NESCAC Second Team honors as Amherst once again stormed through the conference season and conference tournament unblemished.
Over the four years prior to Karega’s arrival, Amherst was a combined 30-56-10, having never won a playoff game and never defeated Williams, Bowdoin or Middlebury. In the past two years, the Jeffs have scored 213 goals and posted a stellar 40-11-7 record, including a 9-3-4 mark against the Ephs, Polar Bears and Panthers. After a disappointing finish last season, when the Jeffs were upset on their home ice in the NCAA Tournament, Karega will not only attempt to become the first Amherst player in the past eight years to record 100 career points (she enters the season at 86); she will also be looked upon to lead a young, talented squad that might well win the program’s first national title.
A mid-year transfer from Brown University, Kai Robinson ’09 wasted no time taking Division III men’s diving by storm in 2008, winning both the one-meter and three-meter events at Hamilton College in his debut with the Lord Jeffs. To prove his first victory was no fluke, Robinson swept the diving events against Williams College, Union College and MIT in consecutive dual meets last season.
Robinson kept rolling at the NESCAC Championships, besting a 16-year-old conference record with a score of 558.65 in the three-meter event en route to a NESCAC Diver of the Year honor. Less than a month later, Robinson supplied Amherst’s lone victories at the NCAA Championships, again sweeping the one- and three-meter events and helping lead his team to a 10th-place finish, leaving the NCAA with the easy decision to dub him Diver of the Meet.
With a full year of practice at Pratt Pool under the tutelage of NCAA Diving Coach of the Meet Mary Ellen Clark, Robinson has a legitimate chance to win every one of his diving events this winter. He will once again be in prime position to be crowned a national champion.
Sarah Leyman ’11 burst onto the women’s basketball scene by scoring 18 points and collecting eight rebounds in just her second collegiate contest, earning the Most Valuable Player award at the Amherst College Invitational last season. She continued to provide depth inside for the Jeffs, averaging a team-high 6.2 rebounds and chipping in nine points-per-game while shooting a NESCAC-best 57 percent from the field.
As a first-year, Leyman helped lead the Jeffs to the best season in program history and played a vital role in the team earning its first-ever NESCAC title and trip to the NCAA Tournament. This year’s squad, however, will be without the services of All-NESCAC First Team selections Shaina Pollack ’08 and Stefanie Reiff ’08 and will need a new leader to emerge on offense. Leyman has the résumé to make her a force to be reckoned with in the NESCAC. What’s more, she plays with enough intensity to become the leader this year’s team needs.
Photos by Samuel Masinter '04.