Women's Basketball Set to Open 2013-14 Season

8563903928_d00bb4b0ba_k.jpgContact: Ben Badua

AMHERST, Mass. - Coming off a fourth-consecutive NESCAC Championship (fifth overall), the Amherst women’s basketball team will once again set its sights on a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, despite losing three senior starters to graduation.

Facing a similar situation a year ago with a departure of one of the program’s most heralded classes, the Jeffs raced out to a 22-0 start before falling at Williams on Feb. 10, ending a streak of 41-straight conference wins. Amherst responded by winning eight-in-a-row en route to a fifth-consecutive NCAA Final Four appearance, avenging their loss to the Ephs with a 53-38 victory in the NESCAC Championship game.

Entering his seventh season on the Jeff sideline, head coach G.P. Gromacki has helped guide the Purple & White to four-straight 30-plus win seasons, having compiled a remarkable 181-14 record during his tenure. Sporting a career record of 344-52, his .869 winning percentage is the highest among all active coaches across Divisions I, II and II and ranks second all-time, trailing only former Louisiana Tech head coach Leon Barmore.

With a pair of starters back in the fold along with a talented mix of veterans and newcomers, Amherst (ranked seventh in the preseason poll) should once again vie for a conference title as it begins to work toward another deep postseason run.

8562875433_4d51c03c4b_k.jpgRETURNING STARTERS
Bursting onto the scene as the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2011, Megan Robertson ’15 has developed into one of the conference’s premier low post players. A second-team All-NESCAC pick in 2012-13, she averaged 12.1 points, while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 69.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Getting the off to a strong start last year, she earned Most Valuable Player honors at Amherst’s Tip-Off Tournament, averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds per game, while connecting on nearly 70 percent of her shots. In early February she enjoyed another solid stretch in which she averaged 13.3 points and 11 rebounds, while shooting 56.0 percent from the field, before later picking up her third NESCAC Player of the Week honor of the season by averaging 20 points and eight boards in a pair of wins over Trinity and Middlebury.

Carrying that momentum into postseason play, she averaged 16.0 points and 5.3 rebounds on 67.9 percent shooting during the Jeffs’ NESCAC Championship run before averaging 11.0 points and 8.6 rebounds during the NCAAs - which included a 13-point, 11-rebound effort against Wisconsin-Whitewater in the national semifinals.

Leading the league with 8.7 rebounds per game, she pulled down a career-high 17 boards against Wesleyan in early January, while finishing the year with 10 double-doubles. Ranking second in the conference in blocks per game (2.7), she swatted a personal-best seven shots against Bowdoin on Jan. 18.

“Megan has had a great career thus far,” said Gromacki. “She’s a preseason All-American and we’re looking for her to take the lead, step up and have her teammates follow her like she’s followed the other great players in our program throughout the years.”

Hoping to build on a solid rookie campaign is sophomore guard Cheyenne Pritchard. Making an immediate impact as one of the team’s best defenders, Pritchard started all 33 games last season, averaging nearly five points and three rebounds per outing.

Seeing a rise in her production during the team’s NCAA Tournament run, she averaged 7.8 points, while shooting 41.7 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from three-point range. Having a stellar all-around game in the opening round against Farmingdale State with 11 points, four rebounds and five steals, she was every bit as good at the Final Four, matching a career-high with 12 points, six steals and three boards against Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“Cheyenne is one of our hardest workers,” Gromacki said. “She’s always trying to do more to help the team get better. We’re looking for her to increase her production and I think she’s up to the task.”

8562437593_fba6cda915_k.jpgRETURNING VETERANS
Savannah Holness ’15 leads a solid cast of veterans hoping to solidify the Amherst lineup. Enjoying a breakout season a year ago, she averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 19.1 minutes, appearing in 32 of the team’s games.

Pulling down a career-high 10 rebounds against Keene State early in the year, she scored a personal-best 18 points against Hamilton. Especially effective during Amherst’s NESCAC Tournament run, she averaged 9.0 points and six rebounds as a reliable contributor off the bench. Tallying 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting with four rebounds in the semifinals against Bowdoin, she had 10 points, seven boards and five steals in the championship game against Williams.

“Savannah brings a lot of energy,” said Gromacki. “She makes things happen on both ends of the floor and we hope she can help fill the void of some of the inside play we lost.”

Haley Zwecker ’16, Marley Giddins ’16, Virginia Hassell ’16 and Taylor Smith ’15 also return after seeing action last season. A back-up point guard a year ago, Zwecker made it to the court in 31 of the team’s games. Averaging 16.1 minutes she tallied a season-high 14 points against Keene State. Putting up a 18-point, 12-rebound effort against William Paterson in the Tip-Off Tournament, Giddens averaged 9.2 minutes in 21 appearances, while Hassell saw time in 23 contests.

Amherst welcomes a talented crop of first-years to the mix this season in Rachel Boyette, Alison Doswell, Meredith Doswell, Hannah Peterson and Jaimie Renner. A versatile group, the young Jeffs could contribute at several positions and make an immediate impact during their rookie seasons.

The Jeffs begin their 2013-14 campaign with a five-game home stand, opening up against Keene State and Skidmore on Nov. 19 and 21, respectively, before hosting its annual Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 23-24. After another home game against Emmanuel on Dec. 3, Amherst hits the road for five of six, including a pair of games against Vassar and Marywood on Dec. 28-29 at the Las Vegas Tournament.

Amherst returns to LeFrak for a pair of conference games against Hamilton and archrival Williams in mid-January, before once again taking to the road for eight-straight. The Jeffs close out the regular season at home with games against Conn. College, Wesleyan and Middlebury from Feb. 7-16.