Jeffs in Search of Fourth Straight 20-Win Season

Amherst's Class of 2009 finished with a 97-28 career record.

2008 Season Recap
With a third consecutive appearance in the NESCAC Championship finals, last year’s Amherst team maintained the program’s reputation as one of the finest in New England. The Jeffs got off to a great start with a trio of wins at the Roger Williams Invitational, giving head coach Sue Everden wins No. 498, 499 and 500 of her career. Everden became the first NESCAC coach to reach the milestone and only the 22nd in Division III history.

Other highlights included a pair of wins over Williams in a span of only four days, marking the first time since 1999 Amherst defeated its archrival in back-to-back regular season matches. The Jeffs went 8-2 in NESCAC matches to earn the No. 3 seed in the conference championship, taking care of No. 6 Connecticut College in the quarterfinals before upsetting second-seeded Wesleyan in the semifinals. Amherst met up with the Ephs in the finals for the third straight year, with fourth-seeded Williams pulling off the upset to successfully defend their conference crown. Amherst finished with a 22-8 record to mark the 17th 20-win season of Everden’s career. The Lord Jeffs led the NESCAC in blocks per set (2.03) and finished third in hitting percentage (.230).

In addition to making three consecutive appearances in the NESCAC Championship finals, Sara Heller, Claire Holton-Basaldua, Hannah Wirth and Allison Munzer posted a 97-28 record during their four years. As sophomores the Class of 2009 helped Amherst win the 2006 conference title in impressive fashion to send the Jeffs to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. Their junior season was even more impressive as Amherst advanced to the national quarterfinals for the first time in program history en route to a dominating 30-5 record.

Heller highlighted the exceptional class with more than 4,000 career assists (10.6 per set) and nearly 1,000 digs (2.33 per set) as one of the best setters in the NESCAC. After leading the conference in assists (1,323) as a sophomore, Heller earned All-NESCAC honors as a junior thanks to her 11.65 assists per set, the best average in the conference. Holton-Basaldua cracked the NESCAC’s top-10 in hitting percentage (.258) last year as a consistent weak-side hitter, finishing her career with 485 kills (1.66 per set). A terrific blocking middle hitter, Wirth led the conference in hitting percentage (.314) as a junior and last year was named to the Roger Williams Invitational All-Tournament Team. Munzer recorded 365 kills in her career and averaged a career-high 2.13 per set as a senior.

Returning Players
Highlighting this year’s team is junior defensive specialist Rachel Yorke, Amherst’s lone postseason honoree in 2008. Yorke finished second in the NESCAC in digs per set (5.08) for the second time in as many years and was solid throughout the season. She earned MVP honors at the Roger Williams Invitational and was named to the Hall of Fame Classic Gold Bracket All-Tournament Team, All-NESCAC Second Team and AVCA All-Region Team. Yorke shined against tough competition, averaging 6.5 digs per set during NESCAC Championship weekend and 8.1 on day two of the Hall of Fame Classic, recording a career-high 42 digs against powerhouse Tufts on Oct. 25.

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Junior tri-captain Rachel Yorke earned All-NESCAC and All-Region honors in 2008.

Joining Yorke as the team’s tri-captains are defensive specialist Bethany Belisle and middle hitter Jackie Berkley. As the team’s lone senior, Belisle averaged 2.42 digs per set in her first three years and should provide valuable leadership this season. Berkley finished fifth in the NESCAC in blocks per set (1.02) as a first-year and ranked 11th in hitting percentage (.262). Last year Berkley averaged a kill per set and finished second on the team in blocking. Teaming up with Berkley as another dominant presence at the net is junior middle hitter Laura Hyman, who last year led the NESCAC in hitting percentage (.396) and finished third in blocks per set (0.85).

Hoping to build on outstanding first years are sophomore outside hitters Cristy Meier and Katherine Kanoff. Meier’s 3.16 kills per set led Amherst and marked the fifth highest average in the NESCAC, while her .279 hitting percentage was seventh best in the conference. A well-rounded player, Kanoff cracked the NESCAC’s top 20 in service aces per set (0.60, 3rd), kills per set (2.50, 13th) and digs per set (2.98, 16th). Kanoff was named the conference’s Player of the Week on Sept. 22 for her performances against Bates, Bowdoin and Colby.

Rounding out the returning players are junior defensive specialist Erin Camp, junior setter Katherine Jordan and sophomore opposite hitter Mary Reiser. Camp averaged at least two digs per set in each of her first two seasons and features a good serve, while Jordan averaged more than nine assists and two digs per set as a valuable backup to Heller last year. Reiser saw limited action as a first-year, but at 6’2 is expected to play a more vital role this season.

Amherst welcomes four first-years to the team this year, all of whom could see significant playing time immediately. Callie Neilson (Escondido, CA) is a consistent setter who will challenge Jordan for the starting role. Kristin Keeno (Honolulu, HI) is a highly touted defensive specialist with tremendous passing ability. Emily Waterhouse (Sherman Oaks, CA) will join Kanoff and Meier to form an outstanding young core of outside hitters. Abigail Hunter (Kentfield, CA) will help to fill the void left by Holton-Basaldua as a middle and opposite hitter.

Season Outlook
Entering her 24th season at the helm of Amherst volleyball, Coach Everden has led her teams to at least 20 wins in 13 of the past 14 seasons to move her career record to an impressive 519-210. Everden is once again joined by assistant coach Roxann Link, who begins her third season on the Amherst sidelines. The Lord Jeffs have a chance to become only the second team to make four consecutive NESCAC Championship finals appearances, as they will look to claim their first title since 2006. Amherst has gotten off to a hot start in recent years, but with this season opening at the Wellesley Invitational the young Jeffs may stumble out of the gate before finding their stride. Amherst’s first match is set for Friday, Sept. 11 against Johns Hopkins at 8 p.m.