Top-Ranked Lord Jeffs Return Entire Team For Title Run

2009-10 SEASON RECAP

The 2009-10 Amherst College women’s basketball team played to within one game from a perfect season, losing only in the national semifinals of the NCAA Division III Tournament to finish the season 32-1. For the second straight season, the Lord Jeffs made a run all the way to the Final Four before coming up short in overtime to Washington University in St. Louis. While the Wash. U. Bears went on to win the title the following day, Amherst took out Rochester University in the national consolation game to finish third in the nation, capping another record-breaking season.

Leyman2
Senior Sarah Leyman leads Amherst in its
quest for a National Championship.

The Jeffs finished the regular season unbeaten at 24-0, including a perfect 9-0 record against NESCAC opposition to earn the top-seed in the NESCAC Championship. During the regular season, Amherst’s closest game was a six point road win at Bates, as the Jeffs went into the post-season leading the nation in scoring margin (+29.2). In the conference tournament, Amherst routed Wesleyan, Bates and Colby by a combined 70 points to win the program’s second NESCAC Championship in the last three years.

With a 27-0 mark heading into the NCAA Tournament, Amherst remained the team to beat in Division III as the overall number one seed in the field of 64 teams. For the second consecutive season, the Jeffs would not have to play outside the friendly confines of LeFrak Gymnasium until the Final Four, with the NCAA selecting Amherst as a host for the First and Second Rounds, as well as the Sectional Semifinals and Finals.

The Jeffs won games over MCLA and Southern Maine comfortably in the opening weekend, setting up a meeting with archrival Williams in the Round of 16. Despite Amherst winning the two regular season meetings between these two storied rivals by margins of 24 and 34 points, the Ephs held a lead as large as 40-25 in the second half. Amherst stormed back late in the game to avoid the upset, winning 71-66. With a win over Babson in the national quarterfinals, Amherst packed its bags for the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University to play in a second straight Final Four.

Amherst’s run for a national championship came to a halt in the national semifinals for the second straight year. Wash. U. rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to force overtime, before edging the Jeffs in the extra frame. The Lord Jeffs were one of only two tournament teams to end their season with a win though, topping Rochester 56-44 in the consolation matchup.

During the year, Amherst registered more program records than any season in history. The Jeffs set school marks for best start to a season (31-0), longest win streak (31 games), best final win-loss percentage (32-1; .960), most wins in a season (32), and most points in a season (2,489). Amherst led Division III in scoring margin for the year (+15.4) and win-loss percentage, while finishing third in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.314). The Jeffs also led the NESCAC in scoring offense, scoring defense and scoring margin, field goal percentage (.436), blocked shots (175), steals (391) and three-point field goals made (230).

THIS YEAR’S TEAM

Amherst enters this season ranked No. 1 in the nation in every poll, and will be expected to make another run at the Division III national championship after returning every player from last season’s roster. The Jeffs dominance over the last two seasons has been even more remarkable as the team used a balanced roster of young players. This year’s squad is as experienced as any in the nation, and is led by four seniors and six juniors. Seniors Jaci Daigneault and Sarah Leyman have been dominant players in the post during their first three seasons, while classmates Kristyn Dunleavy and Courtney Long have each played significant roles on the perimeter.

Stedman
Junior Caroline Stedman was an All-American last
year, and returns as the Jeffs' leading scorer.

Leyman enters the season just 99 points away from scoring 1,000 for her career, while already having passed the 600-rebound mark. Currently sixth on the program’s all-time rebounding list, Leyman will climb as high as third on the list with a repeat of last year’s rebounding numbers with a chance to catch the all-time leader not out of her reach. Daigneault was an All-American as a sophomore, but suffered a broken hand last season that cost her eight games late in the year. With 832 career points and 455 career rebounds after three seasons, Daigneault should join Leyman in the 1,000-point club this season if she remains healthy.

Dunleavy has earned a reputation as a sharp-shooter on the wings for the Jeffs, raising her three-point shooting percentage from 34% as a sophomore to a team-leading 39% last season. Dunleavy played in all 33 games last season, and will be expected to help lead the team on and off the court in her final season for Amherst. Long was a starter for the Jeffs in the Final Four two years ago, but battled back from off-season injuries to get on the floor in 16 games as a junior. If healthy this season, Long will be a welcome boost to an already loaded core of guards.

Amherst’s junior class is its largest, making up nearly half of the roster. Having led the Jeffs to the Final Four and a combined record of 61-5 in its two seasons, this year’s juniors will once again be a major factor in Amherst’s success. Led by All-American, and reigning NESCAC Player of the Year, Caroline Stedman, the junior class has another four players that each started at least 10 games last season. Stedman led the Jeffs in scoring (12.3 ppg) last year, while creating a matchup nightmare for every opponent with her outside shooting ability and athleticism. Forward Lem Atanga McCormick started the final 11 games of the season after Daigneault went down with an injury, finishing the season second on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg). Already the program’s fourth all-time shot-blocker, Atanga McCormick has made her presence felt on both ends of the floor. Shannon Finucane has missed just one game in two seasons, and serves as Amherst’s playmaker. After leading the team in helpers in
back-to-back seasons, Finucane already ranks seventh (232) on the program’s all-time assist list. Classmates Jackie Renner and Kim Fiorentino split time in the starting lineup last season, with Fiorentino missing half the year with an injury. Both Renner and Fiorentino serve as secondary ball-handlers for the Jeffs, while doing a little bit of everything else for the team. Junior Livia Rizzo will also return to the team following the completion of the women’s soccer season where she is a starter for the Jeffs in another post-season run.

Amherst returns a pair of sophomores, including the reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year in Marcia Voigt. In her only start last season, Voigt exploded for a career-high 23 points against Trinity. Classmate Bridget Crowley played in 23 games as a rookie last season, and showed promise both offensively and defensively as a first-year. While Voigt will be expected to play a significant role at the guard position, Crowley will look to increase her impact on the front line as a sophomore.

Head coach G.P. Gomacki, now entering his fourth season at Amherst as the reigning NESCAC and WBCA National Coach of the Year, brings an amazing 88-8 record to the court. This season, Gromacki welcomes the addition of a pair of first-years and a Division II transfer to the team. In addition to sophomore Jasmine Hardy, who transferred after one season at the University of New Haven, first-years Sally Marx and Claire DiMario join the Lord Jeffs this season.

SEASON OUTLOOK

Amherst opens the season on Nov. 20-21 against RPI and SUNY-New Paltz in the 2010 Tip-Off Tournament here at LeFrak Gymnasium. The Jeffs will play eight of their 11 games before the winter break at home, before traveling to Las Vegas in late December to play Saint Norbert and Kenyon College at the inaugural D3hoops.com Classic. After returning from their out-of-region trip, Amherst will play a pair of Little Three home games against Wesleyan and Williams, before heading into the NESCAC schedule.