Key Conference Games Highlight Big Weekend for Jeffs

AMHERST, MA – With conference play opening for Amherst College’s basketball teams and the women’s hockey team preparing to write the next chapter in what has become a storied rivalry with Middlebury College, Lord Jeff fans will have plenty of reasons to tune in this weekend. Here is what’s in store for Amherst in the coming days, as well as links to live audio, video and statistics where applicable.

Women's BasketballWOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Live coverage: The second-ranked women’s basketball team (13-0) opens its NESCAC slate Friday at 6 p.m. against Little Three rival Wesleyan University (6-6) before hosting Connecticut College (7-5) Saturday at 2 p.m. Live statistics will accompany a live webcast for each game.

Preview: Amherst has won five straight against the Cardinals, including an 80-53 result in Middletown earlier this season. Three of the past five meetings have been decided by 10 points or fewer, including a 57-54 result when Amherst and Wesleyan last met at LeFrak Gymnasium. The Jeffs have won 13 of the past 14 against the Camels—winning the past two by 28 and 26 points—and have not lost to them at home since 1994.

As one of only six undefeated teams remaining in Division III, Amherst is leading the nation in scoring defense (43.0 ppg) and scoring margin (+32.4). The Jeffs put together a winning streak of at least 10 games only twice from their inaugural 1976-77 season to the 2006-07 campaign but have done so in three consecutive years under head coach GP Gromacki, while their current 16-game home winning streak is tied for the second longest in program history. Another win for Amherst would make the Class of 2011 70-7 as a group, making it just the second class in program history to reach 70 wins. Only the Class of 2009 (78 wins) has recorded more victories.

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Men's BasketballMEN’S BASKETBALL
Live coverage: The 13th-ranked Amherst men’s basketball team (8-3) will look to get back on track when it hosts Wesleyan University (6-7) Friday at 8 p.m. and Connecticut College (6-6) Saturday at 4 p.m. Live statistics will accompany a live webcast for each game.

Preview: The Lord Jeffs led by as many as 24 points when they played Wesleyan earlier this season, with senior co-captain Steve Wheeler’s career-high 27 points leading Amherst to an 81-72 victory in Middletown. Amherst had won 16 straight against Wesleyan before the Cardinals hit a desperate three-point heave at the buzzer for a 72-69 win a year ago, but the Jeffs are 2-0 against their Little Three rivals since then. Amherst’s last loss to Wesleyan at home came during the 2000-01 season. Amherst has won by an average of 28.3 points during its current eight-game winning streak over the Camels, who have not defeated the Jeffs since 2002 and have not won at LeFrak since 1999.

Amherst’s recent setbacks to Williams and Babson marked only the second time the team has suffered back-to-back regular season losses since the 2002-03 season. The Lord Jeffs have not dropped three straight in the regular season since 1999 and have not lost the first game of their NESCAC schedule since Trinity came to town and earned an 88-85 overtime victory in 2006. Amherst has gone 2-0 during its conference-opening weekend in each of the past three years.

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Women's HockeyWOMEN’S HOCKEY
Live coverage: The top-ranked Amherst women’s hockey team (8-1-2, 5-0-1 NESCAC) will continue its difficult schedule when the Lord Jeffs travel to take on seventh-ranked Middlebury College (7-3-0, 5-1-0) Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. Friday’s game will feature live audio courtesy of Middlebury’s campus radio station (WRMC). Both games will feature a live webcast on a pay-per-view basis.

Preview: Although Middlebury dominates the all-time series, Amherst has posted a 4-1-3 record against the Panthers in the past eight meetings. The Jeffs had their six-game head-to-head unbeaten streak snapped when Middlebury won the 2009 NESCAC title with a 4-3 overtime result at Orr Rink, but Amherst returned the favor by defeating the Panthers on their home ice in last year’s national semifinals, 3-2. Since suffering a 1-0 loss to Middlebury on Dec. 2, 2006, Amherst has posted a 48-game unbeaten streak (40-0-8) in regular season conference play.

Middlebury recently dropped three consecutive games—including its first-ever loss to Trinity—for the first time in at least 12 years but has since won two straight. Amherst has been ranked No. 1 in the past two USCHO.com Division III Women’s Polls but has never held the top spot for three consecutive weeks, which could change with a pair of wins over the Panthers. The Jeffs began the week leading the NESCAC in scoring offense (3.91 gpg) and power play percentage (26.7), with Middlebury ranked second in each category (3.78, 26.1). These teams have combined to win each of the past five conference titles.

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Men's HockeyMEN’S HOCKEY
Live coverage: The ninth-ranked Amherst men’s hockey team (9-2-1, 4-2-1 NESCAC) will look to climb the conference standings when it hosts Connecticut College (3-9-0, 2-5-0) Friday at 7 p.m. and Tufts University (7-3-1, 4-2-1) Saturday at 3 p.m. Each game will feature a live webcast courtesy of JeffCast.

Preview: Amherst has won 10 of the past 11 against the Camels and has not lost to them at home since 2000. The Jeffs scored one goal in each period during a 3-1 win over Connecticut earlier this season in Wesleyan’s Spurrier Tournament. Amherst has won five straight against Tufts and eight of the past nine, including a 4-1 victory in last year’s NESCAC Quarterfinals.

Amherst is outscoring opponents by a 31-11 margin during its current seven-game unbeaten streak—the fifth longest current unbeaten streak in Division III. Amherst began the season at No. 9 in the USCHO.com Division III Men’s Poll but dropped out of the rankings due to a 3-2 start. The Jeffs jumped an impressive five spots in this week’s poll to reclaim their position at No. 9 thanks to a win over No. 10 Williams and a tie with No. 7 Middlebury. Amherst leads Division III in penalty kill percentage (92.7), as opponents have scored only once in their past 30 power play opportunities. A win or tie against Connecticut on Friday would tie the program’s second longest unbeaten streak since 2000, as the Jeffs put together a 5-0-3 stretch during the 2000-01 season and a 14-0 run a year ago.

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TrackMEN'S AND WOMEN'S INDOOR TRACK & FIELD
Preview: The Amherst men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams will head to Brandeis University for Saturday’s Reggie Poyau Memorial Invitational, the first scoring meet of the season. The Lord Jeffs placed third (women) and fifth (men) last year at Brandeis and return several key performers. Notably, Dan Murner ’10 (5k), John McGrail ’11 (3k), Steve Corsello ’11 (800m) and Ben Scheetz ’12 (600m) accounted for all four wins on the men’s side last year, each of whom will be looking to repeat their success in Waltham.

This will be only the second meet of the season for the Jeffs, who competed at the Smith College Winter Classic on Dec. 5. Amherst’s Jordan Roehl ’12 and Chibuzo Unawakaneme ’11 set the tone for Amherst by setting personal records in the weight throw at Smith, with Roehl demonstrating vast potential by setting a new school record of 12.96 meters to place second. Ben Scheetz ’12 was dominant on the men’s side, winning the 1-mile (4:28.83) and 800-meter run (1:58.65). Thebe Tsatsimpe ’11 also picked up a pair of wins for Amherst, edging out victories the 200-meter (23.13) and 400-meter dash (52.84).

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SquashMEN'S AND WOMEN'S SQUASH
Preview: The Amherst men’s and women’s squash teams—each No. 16 in the latest CSA Rankings—took a combined record of 5-0 into Interterm, but the Lord Jeffs have a difficult weekend ahead. After hosting the University of Pennsylvania (No. 3 women, No. 8 men) Saturday at 5 p.m., Amherst will take on Dartmouth College (No. 9 women, No. 9 men) Sunday at 6 p.m. While the Lord Jeff women are hosting Mount Holyoke College Thursday at 2 p.m., Saturday will mark the home opener for the men, who began their season with four consecutive road matches.

The Amherst men nearly picked up a second win in as many days earlier this week to improve to 4-0, but 17th-ranked Middlebury edged out a thrilling 5-4 victory to pull off the minor upset. Providing senior leadership this season have been Saahil Sud ’10 and Lee Banta ’10, the lone men’s players to bring a perfect 4-0 record into the weekend. After each team travels to face Brown University on Jan. 19, the Jeffs will play five matches in a span of three days when they host the Amherst Invitational from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24.