Lord Jeffs Coming Off Strong 2011 Finish

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Entering her 27th year at the helm of Amherst’s volleyball team, Sue Everden has led the Lord Jeffs to a 584-229 record as one of the most accomplished coaches in New England. Her teams are a combined 145-37 (.797) in the past six years, as a seventh consecutive 20-win season would make her the 19th Division III coach to surpass 600 career victories.

Amherst has put together six consecutive 20-win seasons.

Last year’s squad was 8-0 at home and 5-0 in matches that required five sets, including a thrilling comeback win over Williams on the final weekend of the regular season. After dropping the first two sets to the Ephs, the Jeffs rallied and overcame a 10-7 deficit in the deciding frame. “There isn’t a better match I’ve ever been a part of as a coach,” Everden says of the comeback. “All of their hard work came together in that match. I was so pleased with the way we grew as a squad—I’ll be looking for more of that this year.”

If the Jeffs want to claim their first NESCAC title since 2006, they will need to replace the offensive firepower that the Class of 2012 left behind. Although Amherst lost three of last year’s top four leaders in kills, the defense should once again be solid, as the team returns its top two blockers and one of the nation’s best defensive specialists. “We have a very talented and versatile group of players,” Everden says. “There is a fantastic competitive spirit with them—they seem very eager to get going. Hopefully, we can progress in a way that leaves us peaking at the right time.”

Although the team’s offense took a big hit with the loss of Cristy Meier ’12, KC Kanoff ’12 and Mary Reiser ’12, the Lord Jeffs can find comfort in the fact that they have one of the best setters in the NESCAC. After leading the conference and finishing sixth in Division III in assists as a sophomore (11.28), Callie Neilson ’13 battled injuries and averaged 9.36 as a junior. She has nine 50-assist performances to her credit, including a career-best 58 against Coast Guard in 2010.

Neilson notably had 50 assists and 14 digs in only four sets against Emerson last year, also helping Amherst earn 3-2 wins over Coast Guard and Williams by dishing out at least 50 on each occasion. “Callie will play a major role for us this year,” Everden says. “She understands what it takes to help get the team to the next level. She’ll be instrumental in helping to develop our younger players.”

Amherst has an exceptional senior class to lead the way.

Providing Neilson with solid options will be middle hitter Abigail Hunter ’13 and outside hitter Emily Waterhouse ’13. Waterhouse had six kills and 11 digs in her 2011 season opener, but she was never able to get into a rhythm due to injuries. Now fully recovered and back on track, she could be a major contributor this year. “Emily provides a very good competitive example for her teammates,” Everden says. “We’ll need her to be a force on the outside.”

Hunter recorded at least seven kills with a hitting percentage of .300 or higher four times during a dominant stretch last year, also picking up seven kills at a .500 clip in a win over Hamilton. “Abigail is one of the best communicators I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching,” says Everden. “She and Emily have done a fabulous job of getting ready for their senior seasons. They’re going to be great at rallying the troops.”

Another primary target will be middle hitter Lauren Antion ’15, who led Amherst in hitting percentage (.279, 6th NESCAC) and ranked second on the team in kills per set (2.54) as a first-year. Antion earned NESCAC and ECAC Player of the Week honors after averaging 4.36 kills and 1.18 blocks during the final three matches of the regular season, notably recording 17 kills against Smith without committing an error in 22 opportunities (.773). Everden is also excited about newcomers Lizzie Ahern ’16 (OH), Sammy Newby ’16 (MH), and Nicole Carter ’16 (S/RS), each of whom could make immediate contributions at the net.

Highlighting Amherst’s back line will be Kristin Keeno ’13, who has established herself as one of the best defensive specialists in Division III. After showing tremendous promise during her first two years with the team, Keeno broke through as a junior by ranking 12th nationally in digs per set (6.23). Her average was by far the highest in the NESCAC, as only two other players finished the season above 5.00 (5.41, 5.80).

Kristin Keeno '13 led the NESCAC in digs per set in 2011.

In addition to boasting a team-best .950 reception rate, Keeno led Amherst in digs in 24 of the 26 matches in which she played. She recorded at least 30 digs five times, including a season-high 38 against Western New England and an even 30 during a three-set match against Trinity. “Kristin is wonderful to watch,” says Everden. “She leads by example and lets her play do the talking.”

Returning to the team as defensive specialists are Kellyn LaCour-Conant ’15 and Kelsey Ayers ’15, with Katie Warshaw ’16 also joining the squad to form a backcourt that Everden believes will be outstanding. Amherst could also be strong defensively at the net—while Hunter ranked eighth in the NESCAC last year in blocks per set (0.82), Antion was close behind at 0.80. The Lord Jeffs held opponents to a .168 hitting percentage and averaged 1.88 blocks, both of which ranked fifth in the conference.

Amherst has the pieces to be very good this year, and Everden believes she has the right people leading the charge. “This is an outstanding senior class—it’s such a close-knit group. All of them are going to play a major leadership role, and we have an excellent group of first-years to blend in. Everybody is going to make significant contributions—I’m very excited.”

The 2012 season will begin Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Lord Jeffs travel to Mount Holyoke College for a pair of non-conference matches. After taking on St. Joseph’s College at 1 p.m., Amherst will face the host Lyons at 3 p.m.

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