Top Three Scorers Return to Lead Two-Time Defending NCAA Champs

Amherst won the 2010 NESCAC and NCAA titles.

Amherst closed out the 2009-10 season on an 11-game winning streak to become the first program at the college to win back-to-back national titles. The Lord Jeffs suffered only two losses on the year, the second of which was a 3-2 result at Colby that brought Amherst’s remarkable 53-game unbeaten streak in regular season NESCAC play to a halt. The Jeffs kicked it into cruise control from there, outscoring opponents by a 52-12 margin in the final 11 games to finish the season with a 23-2-4 (12-1-3 NESCAC) record. Along the way Amherst won its third conference crown in four years thanks to an overtime win against Trinity in the title game, giving the Jeffs the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite having to travel West for the final weekend of the season, Amherst earned a 4-0 win over Gustavus Adolphus on the Gusties’ home ice in the national semifinals before capping off the season with a convincing 7-2 win against Norwich.

2010-11 SCHEDULE
It won’t be easy to find a schedule more difficult than Amherst’s this season. After opening with back-to-back home games against Wesleyan on Nov. 19-20 the Jeffs will play their next nine on the road, the first seven of which are against nationally-ranked teams. Amherst will kick off the New Year by playing eight games in 17 days, but the back end of the schedule should be much kinder to the Jeffs. Nine of their final 13 regular season contests will be played in Orr Rink, where Amherst posted an 11-0-3 record last year and a 13-2-0 mark in 2008-09. With that crucial home stand and only five regular season games scheduled in February, the Jeffs should be well rested when the NESCAC Championship begins on Feb. 26.

Amherst will feature familiar faces in goal this year, as Caroline Hu ’11 and Sinead Murphy ’12 both return after outstanding 2009-10 seasons. Hu has posted a 29-3-2 record in her career, including a 16-1-1 mark a year ago that gave her the second highest winning percentage (.917) in Division III. She emerged with a new confidence in the postseason to become the team’s top goalie down the stretch, making 24 saves and earning a shutout in the national semifinals en route to an NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team selection. Her 1.00 goals-against average was the second best in the nation, while her .940 save percentage ranked sixth.

Sharing time with Hu last year was Murphy, whose 7-1-3 record as a sophomore included several strong performances against nationally-ranked teams. Notably, Murphy had a combined 34 saves in wins over Plattsburgh State, Elmira and Middlebury, also stopping 16 shots during a 0-0 tie against Trinity and making 32 saves in a 1-1 tie against RIT. Murphy finished the season with a .916 save percentage and 1.39 goals-against average while handling approximately 39 percent of Amherst’s minutes. Joining Hu and Murphy is newcomer Kerri Stuart ’14, who head coach Jim Plumer believes will play a significant role for the program down the line.

Three-time All-NESCAC honoree Randi Zukas '11 is the program's only All-America First Team selection.

Amherst led all of Division III in scoring defense (1.17) last year, but the Lord Jeffs will be without Kirsten Dier ’10 and Alyssa Chwick ’10, who combined for 105 points in their careers. Dier was a two-time All-NESCAC selection and twice was named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. Highlighting the returning defensemen is three-time All-Conference selection Randi Zukas ’11, who last year became the first All-America First Team honoree in program history. Zukas is a stereotypical offensive/defensive hybrid who sees the ice extremely well and is one of the team’s best passers. As a junior she ranked second in the conference in assists (24), third in defenseman scoring (30) and tied for second in power play points (17).

Also returning to the defense are Julia Koch ’11 and Stephanie Clegg ’12, who bring very different styles to the team. Koch is incredibly competitive and tough but tends to be more of a defensive player, while Clegg is more of a threat on offense. Both of them excel on the power play, but it was Clegg who led the conference with seven PP goals last year and finished with 10 goals and six assists in all. Few players are better than Clegg at screening goalies and cleaning up around the net, and at times she dominates the game with her ideal size, skill and attitude a defenseman needs. In last year’s NCAA Championship, Clegg was named to the All-Tournament Team after scoring one goal in each game.

Making the switch from forward to defenseman this year is Kaitlyn McInnis ’13, an exceptional athlete who Coach Plumer believes will make a smooth transition to her new position after recording three assists as a rookie.  Joining the back line are newcomers Ashley Salerno ’14 and Hayley Opperman ’14, each of whom should immediately contribute to the team’s success, as well as Avery Stone ’14, who will see time at both defense and forward.

Amherst’s front line loses 53 points to graduation with the loss of Kate Dennett ’10, Michelle McGann ’10 and Molly Malloy ’10. Notably, Dennett was a two-time NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team selection and finished her career ranked fifth on Amherst’s all-time scoring list with 104 points.

Courtney Hanlon '11 is two points shy of becoming the sixth member of Amherst's 100-Point Club.

Leading the returning forwards is Courtney Hanlon ’11, one of this year’s three captains. A three-time All-NESCAC selection, Hanlon recorded at least 30 points in each of her first three seasons and is on the brink of becoming the sixth player in program history to reach the 100-point club. Hanlon is as clutch as she is consistent, scoring Amherst’s first goal in the 2009 national title game and netting the game winner in overtime of last year’s NESCAC finals. Hanlon, Zukas and Clegg should help to form one of the better power play units in the conference, as the Jeffs ranked second in the category last year (25.9). The biggest challenge with 5-on-4 opportunities this season will be in replacing Dennett, who was the team’s go-to player on face-offs.

Edging out Hanlon and Zukas for the team lead in points last year was Geneva Lloyd ’13, whose nine goals and 22 assists earned her an All-NESCAC First Team selection and ranked her second among Division III rookies in points per game (1.11). Lloyd scored one goal and had 14 assists as a defenseman through the team’s first 18 games, but she moved up to the front line for the final 11. Lloyd scored eight goals and assisted on eight others during the Jeffs’ 11-game winning streak, recording three points in the national title game. This year she will still have defensive responsibilities as the team’s center, but she could be in store for a breakout season without having to deal with a position change.

Joining Hanlon to form an incredibly deep group of senior forwards are fellow captains Megan Curry ’11 and Braidie Campbell ’11, as well as Brittney Evans ’11 and Cianna Wyshnytzky ’11. Curry is one of Amherst’s better players around the net, and last year recorded 15 points while developing into a power forward. Campbell is a true competitor who leads the NESCAC’s top penalty kill unit and plays great defense in crunch time, last year scoring four goals with eight assists. Wyshnytzky added nine points as a junior, and this year could play both in the center and on the wing as a versatile forward. At 5’10 Evans provides size up front, and last year one of her 13 points came on a go-ahead goal against then-top-ranked Plattsburgh State.

The junior class is also very deep up front, as Emily Vitale ’12, Josie Fisher ’12 and Ellen Swiontkowski ’12 will hope to repeat the success they saw last year as sophomores. Vitale is one of the team’s most clutch players, having totaled three goals and three assists in the past two national title games. Vitale and Fisher each had 20 points a year ago, with Fisher doubling her first-year point total by scoring nine goals and assisting 11 others. Swiontkowski was close behind with 17 points, four of which came on assists in the NCAA finals. Swiontkowski has developed immensely during her time at Amherst, and Coach Plumer expects her to step into a leading role along with Vitale and Fisher.

Ellen Swiontkowski '12 had 17 points last year and has developed into one of Amherst's most talented forwards.

Rounding out Amherst’s returning forwards is Megan Doyen ’13, who had four goals and three assists as a first-year. Doyen is a small, speedy player who will continue to compete for quality ice time with the veteran players. Joining the team after playing two seasons at Bemidji State University is Erin Babineau ’12, a fast, hard-nosed wing with 63 games at the Division I level under her belt. The Lord Jeffs also welcome Courtney Baranek ’14 and Barrett McBride ’14 to the offensive corps.

Amherst has a target on its back and an extremely challenging schedule to work with, but the Lord Jeffs should once again be good enough to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With both of last year’s goalies returning, an All-American leading the defense and each of last year’s top three scorers back in the mix, Amherst’s current No. 1 ranking in Division III is well deserved. The Class of 2010 posted an 87-18-11 record to go along with three NESCAC titles and a pair of NCAA Championships, but this year’s eight seniors should do a good job of filling the void left by last year’s exceptional group.

The goal of last year’s team was to play well consistently throughout the season, which Coach Plumer believes his players accomplished. This year the Lord Jeffs will need to look at the season in pieces because of the difficult schedule and the way the NESCAC is improving. Rather than worrying about the NCAA Tournament, the team will need to focus on each weekend. Plumer says the Jeffs will learn a lot about themselves during their nine-game road trip, noting that they’re going to be challenged early on. If the Jeffs are fortunate enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they will have seen a lot of styles along the way and would be as prepared as possible for another title run.