Young Jeffs Looking to Rebuild

Contact: Ben Badua

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Two. That’s the number of victories head coach Sue Everden needs to reach the 600-win plateau. It’s also the total number of upperclassmen Everden, now in her 28th season, will have to look to for leadership on a young, but talented squad looking to improve upon last year’s 14-9 overall record.

Struggling during its non-conference schedule, the 2012 Jeffs excelled in league play, winning a pair of big matches against Middlebury and Williams in mid-October. Keeping the momentum going, Amherst swept both Colby and Bates at the end of the regular season to lock up the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.

Earning their 14th-consecutive berth into the NESCAC playoffs, the Purple & White’s run came to an end with a quarterfinal loss. Expecting to once again vie for a spot in the league championship, Everden hopes a roster featuring five first-years and three sophomores grows into its own.

“We’re young, but talented,” said Everden. “They’re a very coachable group and they’ve played with a lot of togetherness and enthusiasm this preseason. It’s a really good core of young players. There’s going to be first-years and sophomores asked to step up and play some really vital roles, but they’re very capable and I think they will push one another to do so.”

9657467779_4abe0f8c1f_b.jpgMEET THE TEAM
Perhaps the biggest blow to the young Jeffs could be the loss of sophomore standout Lizzie Ahern, who will miss the entire 2013 season due to injury. A second-team all-conference selection as a rookie, Ahern picked up three NESCAC Player of the Week awards, while ranking third in the league in kills per set (3.18) and seventh in hitting percentage (.273).

Hoping to help fill the void left by one of the squad’s most potent offensive weapons will be junior co-captain Lauren Antion. A strong presence in the middle the last two years, she led Amherst in blocks (74) and service aces (32), while sitting second on the team in kills (2.54) in 2011. She followed it up with solid sophomore campaign that saw her rank among the conference leaders in hitting percentage (.227), while finishing second on the Jeffs in blocks (42).

Fellow junior captain Kellyn LaCour-Conant should bring stability to the backline as one of the team’s veterans. Seeing limited action as a first-year, LaCour-Conant made the most of her appearances last season, tallying 12 assists and 76 digs in 58 sets. Entering her third year in the Amherst system, the junior stands poised to take the next step in her progression with another year of reading opposing collegiate hitters under her belt.

“Lauren and Kellyn are tremendous leaders both on and off the court,” said Everden. “Lauren is a really good player and we’ll look for her to once again make a real impact. Kellyn has found her stride in the back. She’s strong, quick and is very good passer.”

Headlining the Purple & White’s sophomore class are Nicole Carter, Katie Warshaw and Samantha Newby. Seeing significant time as a first-year setter, Carter finished fifth in the league in assists per set (8.42), while leading the team in service aces (28). Doing her part defensively, the Irvine, Calif. native also tallied 19 blocks, while averaging 2.34 digs per set.

Shoring up the Jeffs’ back row, Warshaw closed out the year ranked second on the team in digs per set (2.80), while also adding 32 assists and 18 service aces. Making the most of her minutes, Newby averaged 1.50 kills in 82 sets, while also chipping in 28 digs and 29 blocks.

“Nicole had a very good first year and we’re looking for her to continue to improve,” said Everden. “She has done a lot of work on her defense and blocking and with the added maturity that comes with a year of collegiate experience, we expect her to be a leader from the setter’s position. Katie is one of the mainstays on our backrow, while Sam is a very strong, quick, versatile player who did a great job on the right side last year.”

Rounding out Amherst’s roster are first-years Kate Bres, Maggie Danner, Nicole Gould, Jackie Buechler and Kelci Keeno, who will look to make immediate contributions while adding some much needed depth.

“It’s one of the strongest classes we’ve had,” Everden said. “They are a diverse and versatile group. While they all have specific talents, whether they’re hitters or setters, ultimately they’re all very good all-around players and are great ball control people.”

Amherst opens its season at the Springfield Invitational on Fri.-Sat., Sept. 6-7. After a trip to Emerson on Sept. 10, the Jeffs will travel to Providence, R.I. for the Johnson & Wales Invitational on Sept. 13-14. The Jeffs open their home schedule against Bowdoin on Sept. 20, before wrapping up a quick three-match homestand against Bates and Endicott the following afternoon.

Archrival Williams kicks off three-straight conference games on Sept. 26 before Amherst takes a break from the NESCAC grind with a showdown against Westfield State on Oct. 9. Three more crucial league matches get started with Middlebury on Oct. 11, before a weekend trip to Clark, the annual Hall of Fame Tournament and a date with Five College rival Smith close out the team’s non-conference slate.

Amherst wraps up its regular season with a pair of league matches against Wesleyan (11/1) and Trinity (11/2) with the NESCAC Tournament scheduled for Nov. 8-10.