Jeffs Ready to Continue Success under Matthews
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – The man in charge may have changed, but if interim head coach Jeff Matthews has anything to say about it, the tradition of hard work and excellence will continue without a hiccup as the Amherst College women’s ice hockey team begins its 2012-13 season. Coming off the team’s fifth 20-win, NCAA tournament-appearing season in the last six years, a balanced Lord Jeff squad will look to replace one of the most decorated graduating classes in program history and return to the top of Division III hockey.
With accomplished head coach Jim Plumer leaving Amherst to take the top job at the University of Vermont, Matthews inherits a program that has reached the NESCAC finals in each of the last six years, posting a magnificent 127-30-14 record over the span while securing conference titles in 2007, 2008, and 2010 and back-to-back national crowns in 2009 and 2010.
“There’s a tremendous culture already established,” Matthews said. “It goes without saying that they want a national championship, but they’re smart enough to realize that it’s about focusing on the daily details.”
2011-12 SEASON RECAP
Plumer’s final season at Amherst saw the Jeffs return to the 20-win plateau after a 19-6-2 campaign in 2010-11. After an outstanding regular season, Amherst reached the NESCAC finals yet again, falling 1-0 in overtime to rival Middlebury before dropping an NCAA first-round matchup to eventual national runner-up Norwich, 5-0. The loss saw the Jeffs’ strong season end with a 21-6-1 (13-2-1 NESCAC) record.
Entering the year ranked seventh nationally, Amherst’s 2011-12 regular season featured standout wins over fourth-ranked SUNY-Plattsburgh on Nov. 26, No. 4 Middlebury on Jan. 13, and top-ranked Norwich on Jan. 24. The Jeffs also fell, 1-0, to eventual national champion RIT on Dec. 11. Amherst opened its postseason with shutouts of Connecticut College and Bowdoin before the dramatic loss to Middlebury in the NESCAC title game.
2011-12 marked the finale for a six-person senior class that posted an 87-19-7 overall record and a pair of national titles. This year’s squad will be hard-pressed to replace the contributions of goalie Sinead Murphy and leading scorer Ellen Swiontowski, along with forwards Josie Fisher, Emily Vitale and Erin Babineau. Standout defender Stephanie Clegg also leaves the lineup, but will remain with the program as an assistant coach this season.
MEET THE TEAM
Leading the way for Amherst in 2012-13 will be reigning NESCAC Player of the Year and two-time All-American Geneva Lloyd ’13. Entering her second year as a team co-captain, Lloyd is poised to become just the seventh player in program history to join the 100-point club, having tallied 30 goals and 57 assists in 82 career games. A three-time All-NESCAC first-teamer, Lloyd posted nine goals and 15 assists a year ago to lead all conference defensewomen. Her numbers may be even gaudier this season, with Matthews considering shifting Lloyd up to the front line to help a less-experienced group of forwards.
Joining Lloyd in the captaincy are Megan Doyen ’13 and Ashley Salerno ’14. After appearing in all 28 games last year and tallying four goals and two assists, Matthews expects a breakout season from Doyen as a senior. Salerno, meanwhile, will lead an Amherst blue line that ranked third nationally in both the penalty kill (90.5) and scoring defense (1.29) a year ago. A second-team All-NESCAC pick in 2012, Salerno was also a frequent catalyst of the attack, passing out 14 assists on the year to go with a pair of goals.
Also prominent on the attack will be veteran forwards Kaitlyn McInnis ’13, Courtney Baranek ’14 and Barrett McBride ’14. Matthews has already been impressed by the capability of each on the ice and expects increased productivity from all three this season. McBride was the top scorer of the group in 2011-12 with five goals and five assists, while McInnis tied for fifth on the team with seven helpers and Baranek tallied three goals and four assists.
Already established on the front line are standout sophomores Tori Salmon and Emily Flom. Salmon was especially impressive as a rookie, blossoming into the team’s fourth-leading scorer as she tallied six goals and 11 assists. Flom was also a major contributor, ranking fifth on the squad with seven scores while passing out three assists. Matthews expects the pair to continue their growth, with each holding the potential to become one of the league’s top forwards.
Meanwhile, on the blue line, Salerno will captain a strong group of defensive returners which includes fellow juniors Hayley Opperman and Avery Stone. After she dished out seven assists last year, Matthews will look for Opperman to assume a central role when Lloyd moves up, while Stone will be a versatile asset, having played both forward and defense last year and tallied five assists.
A trio of sophomore blue-liners also returns, led by Melissa Martin. With six goals and six assists a year ago, Martin trailed only Salmon in scoring among the Jeffs’ strong rookie class while also helping Salerno and Lloyd anchor the defense. Another strong sophomore will be Madeline Tank, who returns to the ice after an impressive field hockey season, while Anne Gillard also heads back to the blue line after appearing in 26 games and tallying a goal and two assists as a rookie.
Returning to the net for Amherst will be Kerri Stuart ’14. Playing nearly 600 minutes and starting 10 games last year, Stuart posted a .930 save percentage and a 1.30 goals-against average en route to a pair of shutouts and an 8-2 record. Matthews is confident that Stuart’s experience will serve her well between the pipes this season.
Amherst’s newcomer in net will be Kasia Henley (Burlington, Ontario), one of four first-years Matthews is excited to welcome to the fold.
“We need and expect them to contribute,” Matthews said of his rookies. “We want them to feel that they’re just as valuable as the returning seniors.”
Joining the forwards will be play-making center Erin Martin (Canton, MA) and powerful winger Eileen Harris (Winnetka, IL), while Caroline Bomstein (Washington, DC) will be expected to contribute immediately on the blue line.
“I’ve always believed if you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” said Matthews, “and we’re certainly doing that this year.”
With two weeks of formal practice under their belts, Amherst will dive into the schedule this weekend with a pair of NESCAC contests against Hamilton. The Jeffs will welcome the Continentals to Orr Rink Friday night before the teams travel to Clinton, NY for Saturday’s game.
This weekend is just an appetizer, however, as Amherst then heads north after Thanksgiving for the Panther/Cardinal Classic, hosted this year by Middlebury. At one of Division III’s most competitive events, the Jeffs will battle perennial powers SUNY-Plattsburgh and Elmira on Saturday, Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 25, respectively.
Other notable non-conference matchups this winter will include visits to SUNY-Oswego and Utica College on Dec. 8 and 9 and two chances for redemption against Norwich, first a Jan. 16 clash in Vermont before a Feb. 6 matchup at Orr.