March 23, 2017
As I’m sure you know by now, the women’s basketball team won the national championship last Saturday against Tufts. They also completed a perfect season, going 33-0, which I’m told is a first at Amherst—an undefeated season capped off with a national championship. I flew out on Friday for the semi-final game against Christopher Newport University, which was once an extension of William and Mary. (I was not stirred by that connection, despite my undergraduate degree.) We had a good crowd—mostly parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, several former players, a few alums who live in Grand Rapids, parents of current students who are not athletes, but who encouraged their parents to attend.
Christopher Newport had a pep band and a cheerleading squad. We, on the other hand, tended to be who we are—focused, understated, and at times critical of some of the referees’ calls; we were able occasionally to generate a chant in support of the team’s incredible DEFENSE. No glitter or glamour, just a quieter appreciation of remarkable excellence. The Amherst team played so beautifully Friday night, it was a rout.
I got a better view this weekend of the little things G.P. Gromacki does that make him an extraordinary coach. The team is remarkably confident, disciplined, talented, and focused. They move the ball around like pros. They seem rattled by nothing and no one. It was particularly evident in the championship game when Tufts, with whom we appear to have a less-than-friendly rivalry, began hard fouling as a way of getting back in the game. Emma McCarthy took the brunt of it because she plays the post. She ended up with a black eye and a lot of points, many of which she made at the free-throw line. Beautiful touch. Our entire team is a rare combination of grace and grit. Their grace makes their athleticism all the more beautiful and also subtle. Ali Doswell, who was the team’s high scorer with 21 points, was named the national DIII player of the year. The team’s stunning success, throughout the season and tournament, was buoyed by highly skilled and dedicated assistants Sam Hart and Victoria Stewart, and trainer Matt Cook.
Some of the parents had planned a party in the Marriott after the game. I imagined stopping in briefly, but ended up staying until 1:00 a.m. I got to see G.P. dance, watched the team break into a rousing performance of “You’ll Always Be My Baby” (joined by a wedding party that happened through that part of the lobby) and was persuaded by the parents of the Doswell twins to join them for a tequila shot, my first ever and probably my last.
Molly Mead is the team’s faculty liaison and has been for ten years. I also got a better appreciation for all she does, not just for the students, but for the coaches and the parents. Greg DiNardo, who is associate athletic director, made everyone feel at home as though that arena were actually ours. You have probably followed the team’s triumphs, in one form or another, through the capable work of Chris Attwood, Amherst’s director of athletic communications. And Don Faulstick, our AD, was heroic. He is recovering from recent shoulder surgery. Despite obvious pain, he got on a plane Saturday, waited for two delayed flights, and suffered through to Grand Rapids. By the mid-point of the post-championship party, he was pale with pain, but obviously glad he had come.
There were many examples of extraordinary commitment to our students and the College, all demonstrated without fanfare or any apparent need for recognition or credit. I thought you might enjoy a short account and might want to congratulate the coaches, the team and the supporting players. I’m proud of every one of them.