Young Amherst Team Looks to Defend NESCAC Crown

Amherst has a NESCAC title to defend this year.

2006-07 IN REVIEW
Last season was one for the record books, as the Amherst women’s hockey team posted a 20-7-3 record (10-3-3 NESCAC) for the best finish in program history. After starting the season 3-4, Amherst went 17-1-3 in its next 23 games to take Division III women’s hockey by storm. The Lord Jeffs’ 5-4 overtime victory over Williams during the regular season marked the first time Amherst had ever gotten the best of the Ephs. The archrivals met again in the postseason after Amherst earned the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament to play in the first home postseason game in program history, and the Jeffs once again came away with an overtime win over Williams, 3-2. Amherst kept the program firsts coming, as a 3-2 overtime win over Bowdoin in the semifinals and a 2-1 triple overtime win over Middlebury marked the first victories against the Polar Bears and Panthers in program history. At more than 102 minutes, the NESCAC Final set the record for the longest game in Division III women’s college hockey history. The NESCAC title led to the Jeffs’ first trip to the NCAA tournament, where Amherst defeated Rochester Institute of Technology, 2-1, to advance to the Frozen Four against undefeated Plattsburgh State. The Jeffs’ national title run came to an end, as highly-favored eventual champion Plattsburgh held on for a 3-2 victory.

The leadership of the Class of 2007 will be difficult to replace. Defensemen Tes Siarnacki and Rachel Simon and forwards Alena Harrison, Meg Dickoff and Kirsten Forsberg combined for 14 goals and 24 assists last season, but perhaps more importantly their work ethic and selfless attitudes leave a legacy for a surging Amherst women’s hockey program, exemplifying the concept of “team.” Most notably, Lindsay Grabowski mentored an exceptional first-year goaltender while still posting a 5-1 record herself and 2.41 goals-against average. The Jeffs also lose the services of assistant coaches Melanie Ruzzi and Julia Ortenzio, who both played significant roles in Amherst’s success.

Senior co-captain Megan Quinn will help lead the Amherst forwards.

Once again leading the Jeffs is head coach Jim Plumer, the reigning NESCAC Coach of the Year and runner-up for AHCA Division III Women’s Hockey National Coach of the Year. Plumer is excited to welcome back a group of experienced upperclassmen that should integrate well with another large first-year class. This year’s senior class features defenseman Katharine Kelly and a trio of forwards in Elizabeth Ditmore, Megan Quinn and Natanya Khazzam. The four seniors combined for 21 points in 2006-07 and figure to play key roles and to continue the legacy of strong leadership on and off the ice.

Quinn and junior defenseman Julie Radziewicz will be this year’s co-captains, with Radziewicz leading a very talented class of 2009. Amherst’s top three scorers from last season return as junior forwards and are highlighted by Tarasai Karega, who led the NESCAC last year in goals (20) while leading the nation in game-winning goals (8) and earning All-Conference First Team honors. Anna MacLean’s 15 goals were the fifth most in the conference and her 32 points were sixth best in NESCAC, highlighted by scoring both Amherst goals in the NESCAC title game last March. Rounding out the junior class is Lindsey Harrington, a powerful forward who also chipped in with 15 goals last year and has averaged a point per game for her career.

Joining the juniors on the attack will be sophomore forwards Kate Dennett, Michelle McGann and Molly Malloy. Dennett’s 0.97 points-per-game average was the seventh best in the nation among rookies, as she finished near the top of the NESCAC in a number of offensive categories (notably – 10th in scoring with 29 total points). McGann added four goals last year, and her 19 assists were the fourth most in the conference, while Malloy, a converted defenseman, found herself playing a key role and notching nine points playing just part of the year on offense. A pair of sophomore defensemen return, led by Kirsten Dier, an All-NESCAC First Team selection. Dier tallied five goals and 18 assists to boast the NESCAC’s third highest point total among defensemen. Joining Dier on defense will be Alyssa Chwick who notched an impressive 11 assists in her rookie campaign.

Rounding out the sophomore class is reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year and All-NESCAC First Team goaltender Krystyn Elek. In addition to her conference honors, Elek was the only first-year in Division III to be named to an All-America Team, as she earned All-America Second Team honors for the East Region. Elek finished third in the nation in save percentage (.939; 1st in the NESCAC) and sixth nationally in goals-against average (1.64; 2nd in the NESCAC), twice earning NESCAC Player of the Week honors and once earning a Defensive Player of the Week nod. Elek set the NESCAC tournament record for saves in a game (65) and saves in a tournament (127), and was featured in the “Faces in the Crowd” section of Sports Illustrated for her astounding postseason statistics.

Junior co-captain Julie Radziewicz will help lead a young and talented group of defensemen.

Eight of Amherst’s 22 players are first-years, and they should each see significant time in their rookie seasons. Joining the forwards are Braidie Campbell, Megan Curry, Brittney Evans, Courtney Hanlon and CC Wyshnytzky, while Randi Zukas and Julia Koch will make an immediate impact on the defense. Elek is joined in goal by Caroline Hu, who has been a regular participant in USA Hockey’s National Development Camps. Accompanying Plumer on the bench is Marissa O’Neil, a 2005 graduate of Bowdoin, who competed in two Frozen Fours as a Polar Bear.

2007-08 SCHEDULE
Amherst, which begins the season as the #4 ranked team in the preseason Division III poll, starts the season with a challenging road trip to Maine, facing perennial NESCAC hockey powers Bowdoin and Colby (Nov. 16 & 17). In addition to the challenging NESCAC conference competition, which includes nationally ranked teams and emerging programs across the conference, the Jeffs face five non-conference opponents who have been ranked in the national Top Ten in recent years. A rematch of the NCAA semifinal is on tap for the first non-conference game of the season at Plattsburgh on Dec. 7, while the Jeffs will host national powers Utica and RIT to open the 2008 portion of its schedule. Later in January, Amherst travels to Elmira, NY to face two-time national champion Elmira College in what figures to be an important matchup that most certainly will have national implications. Neumann College, an up-and-coming team on the fringe of being nationally ranked for the past several years, will come to Orr Rink Feb. 10 for its first-ever matchup with the Jeffs to close out the non-conference schedule that also includes games with Southern Maine, Castleton State and SUNY Cortland. Amherst’s schedule will certainly be a challenge as the Jeffs defend their first-ever NESCAC championship.