Depth, Youth Give Amherst New Look in 2010

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Amherst used standout performances from several young runners to exceed expectations and remain among the best teams in New England. The Lord Jeff women opened the 2009 season with their usual pair of local races, winning the Amherst Invitational for a seventh consecutive year before placing fourth against Division I competition at the UMass Invite. After a week of rest, Amherst placed first in a field of 12 teams at Keene State by featuring four runners in the top six, including the individual champion.

Championship season kicked off with a 12th-place showing at New Englands, a runner-up finish at the Little Threes and a third-place performance at NESCACs. The Lord Jeffs jumped two spots from their 2008 finish at the conference championships, placing five runners in the top 20 and capturing the individual crown for the third time in as many years. The Jeffs kept rolling by landing third in a field of 39 teams at the ECACs despite sending an extremely young squad, as two first-years and a sophomore cracked the top 20.

Hallie Schwab '11 posted Amherst's second best time at last year's NCAA Championships.

Amherst featured four runners in the top 25 to finish fourth at the NCAA District Championships, marking the seventh consecutive year and ninth time in the past 10 years the Lord Jeffs cracked the top five. With an at-large bid, the Jeffs were invited to close out their season at the National Championships for a seventh consecutive season, finishing 21st out of 32 teams for a nice improvement from their 28th-place showing in 2008.

The Lord Jeffs had to rely on youth throughout the season, as only Sophia Galleher ’10 and Catherine Knuff ’10 represented the senior class. Galleher was the team’s frontrunner all year, finishing with Amherst’s fastest time in seven of the eight races she took part in. The 2006 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Galleher was named the conference’s Most Outstanding Performer in 2009 after she claimed the individual title at the conference championships. She also won the Keene State Invitational and placed second at the Little Three Championships and Amherst Invite.

Six of Amherst’s top seven runners return for the 2010 season, four of whom finished in the top 20 at last year’s NESCAC Championships. Serving as two of the team’s captains this year and leading the senior class will be Hallie Schwab ’11 and Mercedes Taylor ’11. Schwab was one of the team’s top three finishers in five races a year ago, including a 15th-place showing at NESCACs, finishing her junior season on a high note by posting Amherst’s second best time at Nationals. Taylor elevated her success drastically last year, moving from one of the team’s top 15 runners to one of the top five in the final two races of the season. She also rounded out the top 20 runners at the 2009 NESCAC Championships.

Wasting no time making an impact on the program last year was Ali Simeone ’13, who posted Amherst’s second fastest time in four races, including finishing 17th overall at the NESCAC and NCAA District Championships. Simeone ran an outstanding race at Nationals, as her time of 23:24.2 led the Lord Jeffs by 15 seconds. After placing fourth at Keene State, Simeone was named the NESCAC Performer of the Week.

Mercedes Taylor '11 made large strides to become one of the team's top runners last year.

Also returning from last year’s NCAA Championship group is Melissa Sullivan ’12, who highlights the junior class. Sullivan placed 18th overall at NESCACs and NCAA Districts, also finishing fifth at Little Threes. After posting the team’s third best result at Districts, Sullivan ran Amherst’s fourth fastest time at Nationals. Finishing 6-7 in the final two races of the year were Sarah Daly ’13 and Keri Lambert ’13, respectively. Lambert also led Amherst at the ECAC Championships, and this year could become one of the team’s top performers.

In addition to those six who represented Amherst at Districts and Nationals last year, Christina Wong ’11 will serve as a team captain for a second season as someone who could factor into the scoring more often. Wong was among the team’s top six finishers several times last year, including at the Amherst Invite (5th overall), Little Threes (17th overall) and NESCACs (31st overall). Rounding out the senior class are Melissa Pritchard ’11 and Cara Giaimo ’11.

Joining Sullivan in the junior class are Anna Hager ’12, Winnie Ma ’12, Shannon McKenna ’12, Eliza Schalch ’12 and Laura Zaccagnino ’12. Following a successful track season, Zaccagnino has the potential to join the team’s top runners. In addition to Simeone, the talented sophomore class consists of Lauren Almeida ’13, Abby Hopper ’13, Kristen Moulton ’13, Jamila Odeh ’13 and Elodie Reed ’13. Head coach Ned Nedeau notes that the Class of 2013’s success was a nice bonus last year, and he hopes they can continue that success this year as sophomores.

Despite the loss of the team’s frontrunner, Coach Nedeau believes Amherst could be even stronger this year due to a significant amount of depth. Younger runners stepped up in 2009 to make the most out of what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the program, and Nedeau hopes his Lord Jeffs continue to reach their potential. Amherst has had a clear-cut No. 1 runner in each of the past few years, but this season’s depth should give the team a new look. In any given race, one of several runners could emerge as the team’s top finisher.

The New England region is once again very strong, but Nedeau says the team’s goal is to once again compete in the National Championships. The eight first-years joining the team are Bridget Bennett ’14, Amy Dao ’14, Ruodi Duan ’14, Angie Epifano ’14, Jasia Kaulbach ’14, Brooke Kirkham ’14, Victoria Sosnowski ’14 and Lisa Walker ’14. Nedeau notes that there are key runners in the Class of 2014 who could compete with the veterans for the top scoring spots. The 2010 season opens Saturday, Sept. 11, when the Jeffs host the Amherst Invitational.