Top-Ranked Amherst Ready to Defend NCAA Title

2008-09 RECAP
Only two years separated the Amherst women’s ice hockey program’s first postseason victory (2007) and its first national championship (2009), as the Lord Jeffs have quickly become a force to be reckoned with in Division III. Amherst posted a 19-4-0 record during the 2008-09 regular season, including a perfect 16-0-0 mark in NESCAC play to earn the conference’s No. 1 seed for the first time in program history. The Jeffs defeated No. 8 Hamilton (7-1) and No. 6 Conn. College (6-1) to make a third consecutive appearance in the NESCAC title game, but second-seeded Middlebury earned a 4-3 overtime win to claim the title at Orr Rink.

NCAA Champs
Amherst has a national title to defend for the first time in program history.

Amherst would earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, hosting a first-round game for the second consecutive year. Paired up with two-time defending champion Plattsburgh State in the opening round, the Jeffs stormed into the semifinals with a 4-1 victory to mark their first-ever win over the Cardinals. Amherst would then exact revenge on three-time national champion Middlebury by handing the hosts a 3-2 loss to advance to the title game for the first time in program history. Amherst had earned a 4-3 overtime victory over Elmira during the regular season, and the NCAA finals brought the same result when the Jeffs tied things up at 3-3 late in regulation before scoring the game winner in extra time.

The Jeffs finished at 24-5-0 to set a program record for wins in a season, and in winning the national championship became the fifth team in Amherst’s history to capture a national title. The Jiffs earned the number one ranking in the National Poll in December—one of only six teams to be voted #1 in the nine years of the national poll—and they begin the 2009-10 season atop the poll. Ten players scored at least 10 points for the deep Amherst team, with the Jeffs leading the NESCAC in scoring defense (1.48 goals/game) and finishing second in scoring offense (3.76 goals/game), second in power play percentage (21.6) and third in penalty kill percentage (86.3).

Amherst will have 67 points to replace this year with the loss of 24 goals and 43 assists to graduation. Each member of the Class of 2009 made a significant impact on the program in a unique way. Two-time captain Julie Radziewicz scored only 22 points in her four years, but she was the heart and soul of the NESCAC’s top defense. As an All-Academic and All-Sportsmanship selection, Radziewicz played at an incredible speed that allowed her to be successful at both ends of the ice.

Sharing captain duties last year was Lindsey Harrington, who finished her career with 47 goals and 52 assists for 99 points. Playing with speed and grit, Harrington’s dominant senior season featured nine goals and 15 assists, earning her a spot on the All-NESCAC Second Team and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

As one of the top goal scorers in program history, Tarasai Karega constantly created problems for opposing teams as a speedy forward. After leading Division III in power play goals en route to an All-NESCAC First Team selection as a first-year, Karega was named to the All-NESCAC First Team again as a sophomore for leading the conference in goals. She landed on the All-NESCAC Second Team as a junior and added 26 points a year ago, finishing her career with 112 points.

Anna MacLean totaled 34 goals in her career, but none were bigger than the two she scored during a 2-1 triple-overtime win over Middlebury in the 2007 NESCAC finals. MacLean chipped in with five goals and five assists last year, joining Radziewicz and Karega on the NESCAC All-Academic Team. The Class of 2009 is the winningest in program history, posting a 74-31-7 record in four years.

Kate Dennett scored two goals in last year's NCAA title game, including the game winner in overtime.

Leading the senior class will be captains Kirsten Dier and Kate Dennett. Dier returns for a second year in a captain’s role and she recorded 14 points last year while also being named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. She burst onto the scene by earning All-NESCAC First Team honors as a first-year and sophomore, but she needed half of last year to recover after tearing her ACL in 2008.

Dennett has averaged nearly a point per game during her first three seasons with the team, and her 11 goals and 14 assists a year ago gave her 79 for her career. Head coach Jim Plumer says Dennett is the definition of clutch, which she demonstrated by scoring two goals in last year’s national title game, including the game winner in overtime.

Joining Dier on defense is Alyssa Chwick, who may be the most underrated defender in the NESCAC. Not a typical scorer, Chwick is consistently an unsung hero. Bringing senior leadership to the forwards are Michelle McGann and Molly Malloy. McGann recorded 19 points as a junior and has 66 in three years as one of Amherst’s key forwards, while Malloy has been a solid contributor during her career, scoring 11 goals as a sophomore.

The team’s third captain is Courtney Hanlon, a two-time All-NESCAC First Team selection who has established herself as one of the conference’s top forwards. Hanlon recorded 35 points as a first-year and 33 a year ago, averaging more than a point per game for her first two years. Hanlon works as hard at her game as anyone on the team with the payoff coming in big games, including a goal in the national championship bout last year.

The junior class features four other forwards who should all play significant roles this year. Megan Curry scored 16 points last year and figures to move up the depth chart after netting four playoff goals last year, including the game winner against Middlebury in the national semifinals. Braidie Campbell is at full health this year and looks to expand on her role as one of the team’s top penalty killers and should see significant offensive opportunities.  Brittney Evans added six goals as a sophomore and is effective around the net. Cianna Wyshnytzky is a gritty player who will look to add to the scoring mix after recording two assists last year.

Fighting for the starting goaltender role is Caroline Hu. Hu got plenty of experience in her first two years as a backup, posting a 13-2-1 record in her career with a 1.20 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Notably, Hu made 26 saves during a 3-0 win over then-top-ranked Middlebury last year, marking the first time the Panthers had been shut out on their home ice since 2003.

Rounding out the junior class is a pair of outstanding defenders in Randi Zukas and Julia Koch. Each player recorded 16 points last year, with Zukas scoring six goals and Koch adding three. Coach Plumer describes each player as a prototypical Amherst offensive/defensive hybrid and they are vital members of the top defensive corps in NESCAC. In each of the past two seasons, Zukas has been named to the All-Conference Second Team.

Highlighting the sophomore class is forward Emily Vitale, who finished second among NESCAC first-years in points with seven goals and 15 assists. Vitale recorded a goal and two assists in the national title game, adding an assist in the semifinals and a goal in the quarterfinals. Josie Fisher had 10 points during her impressive debut season, with one of her goals coming in the quarterfinals against Plattsburgh. Ellen Swiontkowski rounds out the Class of 2012’s forwards and should play a much larger role this year after spending most of last season injured.

Emily Vitale finished second among NESCAC first-years in points with seven goals and 15 assists last year.

Adding a tremendous amount of potential and talent to the defense is Stephanie Clegg. At 5’10, Clegg has the size, skills and attitude to dominate at both ends of the ice, and will be looking to build on her 14-point rookie season. Clegg and Vitale will each join the squad after wrapping up their NCAA Championship run with the field hockey team. Competing for the starting goaltender role is Sinead Murphy, who went 2-0 with a .903 save percentage and 1.07 GAA last year. Murphy made 11 saves during a 2-0 win over Wesleyan before stopping another 11 shots in a 6-2 win at Buffalo State.

Amherst welcomes three first-years to the team, and, as Coach Plumer notes, they have the luxury of joining a veteran team. Adding depth to the forwards are Megan Doyen—a small, quick forward with great stick skills whose style of play fits in perfectly with the team—and Kaitlyn McInnis, a fast, strong, physical wing who will join the ice hockey team after helping lead the Amherst field hockey team to the NCAA Tournament. Joining the defense is Geneva Lloyd, a very smart and skilled player who continues the mold of great defenders and should be an impact player. Amherst also welcomes Chelsea Grills and Chris Cobb to the coaching staff. Bringing incredible passion and an extraordinary playing résumé to the staff, Grills was part of three Frozen Fours at Saint Lawrence University and a member of Team Canada’s Under-22 team for four years. Cobb will work with the Amherst goaltenders and also does double duty as the head coach of UMass women’s club hockey team.

As the reigning NESCAC and AHCA Coach of the Year, Plumer will be looking to lead Amherst to a fourth consecutive 20-win season. The Lord Jeffs feature a smaller roster and a tougher schedule than fans will be used to, but Plumer is excited about having an exceptional group of talented and committed student-athletes. Defense will once again be the team’s foundation, but the Jeffs will need their young goaltenders to step into leading roles. Look for this year’s team to be possibly the most talented offensive team in the program’s history.

Amherst will need to get off to a strong start, as the difficult schedule starts early. After a challenging first semester, the new calendar year will kick off with nine games in 21 days, beginning with a tournament at Middlebury that involves four of the top five teams in Division III. The Jeffs return to face a pesky Conn. College team on short rest, followed by a two-game series at Middlebury, a challenging road contest at Elmira, and a two-game series with Hamilton just two days later.

Plumer feels that the difficult schedule and the change in the NESCAC schedule (no travel partner this year) will help the team move on from last year. Although the Lord Jeffs won 24 games last year, Plumer notes that they did not consistently play well, which is something they will strive for this year. Three of the team’s games will be featured as the USCHO Game of the Week, including a Dec. 11 showdown with RIT at Orr Rink. Amherst’s 42-game unbeaten streak in NESCAC play will be put to the test Friday, Nov. 20 when the Jeffs open the season at Wesleyan. Amherst has not lost a regular season conference game since a 1-0 setback at Middlebury on Dec. 2, 2006.