Amherst's Dream Team

Contact: Justin Long

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AMHERST, Mass. - At the press conference that followed the Amherst College women’s basketball team’s final game of the 2011-12 season, head coach G.P. Gromacki paused when he was asked to explain what his seniors meant to him. He stared ahead in silence, struggling to find a way to properly honor the six students who had just played in their final collegiate game.

You couldn’t blame him for not having an answer. It was impossible to fully explain how talented those six players were, how effortless they made everything seem, and how much fun it was to watch them compete together. A class that special had never come through Amherst before. .

For now, though, let’s let some numbers do the explaining:

  • In four years, the Class of 2012 was 94-2 in the regular season and 30-6 in the postseason (124-8 overall). The 124 wins are the most ever by a Division III group in a four-year span.
  • The Class of 2012 was 76-1 in LeFrak Gymnasium, including 67-0 in its last 67 attempts. That one loss came on a buzzer beater.
  • The Class of 2012 was 36-1 in conference games, including 33-0 in its last 33. That win streak is a NESCAC record.
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Let all of that sink in for a second.

Now, take a look at Amherst’s margin of victory these past four years:

  • Number of games won by 1-9 points --- 14
  • …by 10-19 points --- 23
  • …by 20-29 points --- 41
  • …by 30-39 points --- 21
  • …by 40-49 points --- 12
  • …by 50+ points --- 13

Of Amherst’s last 124 wins, 110 were by double digits. Eighty-seven were by at least 20 points. They almost won more games by 50+ points (13) than they did by single digits (14). They won the first 15 games of the 2011-12 season by margins of 52, 30, 26, 21, 55, 24, 21, 43, 30, 70, 37, 51, 29, 53 and 23.

Yikes.

Even the 1992 Dream Team would have to be impressed.

By now, it should be pretty clear that this group—consisting of Lem Atanga McCormick, Shannon Finucane, Kim Fiorentino, Jackie Renner, Livia Rizzo and Caroline Stedman—was special. I mean, you know you’re good when you can look back at the time you went 29-4 and label it your worst season.

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Those six players didn’t get the ending they had hoped for—they advanced to only the national semifinals as seniors—but it shouldn’t take anything away from how great they were. Besides, when they look back at the past four years, they’ll realize the ending was irrelevant.

When they gather at reunions years from now and talk about the good old days, they’ll remember how they went from being an unproven group of freshmen to an 18-0 juggernaut in the blink of an eye. Or how they punched a ticket to their first Final Four by winning four NCAA tournament games by an average of 25 points, results so dominant that people couldn’t help but think this young Amherst team might be headed for greatness.

They’ll remember Lem knocking down three-pointers one minute and posting up defenders the next, making it look so easy that it almost felt like Amherst was cheating. When she hit threes in bunches, opposing coaches couldn’t do anything other than shrug their shoulders and turn to their fans, as if to ask for suggestions.

They’ll remember beginning their sophomore year with tremendous expectations, which they met by winning the first 31 games of the season. They made their first NESCAC title look easy but would have to overcome a 15-point deficit to get by Williams in an NCAA tournament thriller. (They got used to disappointing the Ephs’ fans, who sat through 10 consecutive losses at the hands of Amherst.)

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They’ll remember LeFrak, where they were unstoppable. As soon as that first song on the warmup mix kicked on and they ran out of the locker room, there was really no point in moving on with the rest of the show. Every once in a while they would tease their fans with a slow start, but more often than not they stormed out of the gate and never even hinted that a close game might be in store.

They’ll remember casually putting up otherworldly statistics as juniors and returning to Bloomington, where Kim jumped into Lem’s arms and almost knocked her over when the program’s first-ever national title was in the bag. They’ll remember Kim dribbling out the clock against Wash-U as the team counted down those final seconds and rushed the court, taking turns holding the trophy and posing for pictures before singing a rendition of “Sweet Caroline” that created a perfect ending to an incredible season.

They’ll remember senior year and the 50-game winning streak that got them to that fourth Final Four. That last opportunity to cut down the LeFrak nets also meant one last chance to playfully shake the ladder when it was Kim’s turn to claim her prize. They’ll remember those strands of net serving as makeshift mustaches as they posed for pictures for the last time in their home gym, still finding ways to genuinely love each other’s company.

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By the time they get to that point of the story, they’ll realize that the ending doesn’t matter. They’ll have so many good memories that the details of those final games will be irrelevant. And if the memories ever get hazy, they can just look up at the four banners they helped add to LeFrak. Four trips to the Final Four. Three NESCAC titles. One national championship. Years from now, people will look up at that wall and wonder exactly how good that group was. The banners will be a good start, but they won’t capture everything.

So, when Coach Gromacki was asked to explain what the Class of 2012 meant to him, you couldn’t blame him for pausing. You could hear a pin drop in the room as he fought off tears and searched his thoughts for an appropriate answer. It was an emotional moment, and it said more about that group than any banner or trophy ever could.

When he finally spoke, he knew it was impossible to sum up the Class of 2012 in one answer: “I could talk for hours about this group and what they have meant to me and to our basketball program. I was fortunate to have them play for me.”

And if you were there for any of it, you were fortunate to be a part of the ride.