Jeffs Heading to Middlebury in Search of Fourth NESCAC Title
Courtesy of the NESCAC
AMHERST, MA – Amherst College will look to earn its fourth conference title this weekend when the Lord Jeffs head to Middlebury College for the final rounds of the 2011 NESCAC Women’s Ice Hockey Championship at Kenyon Arena in Middlebury, Vt.
Game Schedule: The action gets underway on Saturday when top-seeded Middlebury faces fourth-seeded Bowdoin in the first semifinal at 1 p.m., followed by second seed and defending NESCAC champion Amherst taking on Trinity—the third seed—in a rematch of last year’s title game. Saturday’s winners will advance to Sunday’s championship, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
Ticket Information: Tickets for each day are $5 for adults and $2 for students. Fans wishing to purchase tickets in advance can visit Middlebury’s online Box Office or call 802-443-6433.
Live Coverage: All three games will feature a free webcast courtesy of Middlebury College.
Weekend Preview: The top seed in this year’s championship came down to just two teams in the final weeks of the regular season: a neck-and-neck race between Amherst and Middlebury (19-4-1, 14-1-1 NESCAC). The squads split their season series back on Jan. 14-15 in Amherst, as the Panthers earned a 3-0 shutout the first night before the Lord Jeffs responded with a 2-1 victory the next day. Tied for first with three weeks to go, Middlebury gained the advantage when Amherst lost at Bowdoin on Feb. 5 and managed to hold onto first for the remainder of the season.
Winners of 11 of their last 12 games, including a 6-2 decision over Williams in the quarterfinals on Saturday, the Panthers have out-scored opponents by more than three goals per game with six shutouts during that stretch. Middlebury features one of the top defenses in the NESCAC, allowing on average just over a goal per game and killing off a league-leading 92.2 percent of penalties. It all starts in net for the Panthers with the spectacular play of Alexi Bloom (16-3-1), who is atop the NESCAC in both goals-against average (1.02) and save percentage (.950) with a career-best nine shutouts this season. The scoring committee is led by Julia Ireland and her team-best 12 goals, while Lauren Greer and Sara Ugalde are close behind with 11 apiece. Greer currently leads the Panthers in points with 22 on 11 goals and 11 assists.
Standing in between Middlebury and a sixth NESCAC title is one of its oldest tournament rivals, fourth-seeded Bowdoin (15-8-2, 9-6-1 NESCAC). The Panthers and the Polar Bears met in the conference final four years in a row from 2002 through 2006, with Middlebury coming away as the victor three times. Since falling to Middlebury by an 8-2 score in the 2006 title tilt, Bowdoin hasn’t been able to get back to Sunday’s championship. The Polar Bears fell to Amherst in the 2007 semifinals in overtime, 3-2, and suffered the same fate last year to the Lord Jeffs, squandering a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss. Bowdoin may be on track to return to the final this winter, having recorded the most wins in a single season since 2007 following a 2-1, come-from-behind victory over Connecticut College during the first round.
Bowdoin ranks third among conference members in scoring offense with 3.40 goals per game and sits in the middle of the pack defensively at 2.36 goals allowed. The power play unit is clicking along nicely at a 26.3 percent conversion rate, a figure that is second only to Amherst. Propelling the Polar Bears this season has been the hot hand of sophomore forward Kayte Holtz, whose 25 goals are the most by a Bowdoin player in 15 years. In net, classmate Tara Connolly has seen a majority of the action, going 7-3-2 with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. The duo hopes to help Bowdoin not only reach Sunday’s final but also earn the program’s third NESCAC championship (2002, 2004).
Although second-seeded Amherst (18-5-2, 13-2-1 NESCAC) came up short in its bid for the number-one seed for the third year in a row, losing out to Middlebury for hosting duties this weekend may not be that bad due to the recent success the Jeffs have had at Kenyon. The defending NESCAC champions have won two of their three titles at Middlebury, including their inaugural crown in 2007, while their first of back-to-back NCAA championships occurred there as well. A recurring trend for Amherst in recent years has been its ability to win in the second half of the season, and 2010-11 has been no different as the Jeffs are 15-2-1 since the start of January, most recently taking down Colby in the quarterfinals by a 5-0 score.
For the second year in a row Amherst enters the semifinals with the league’s top offense, as the Jeffs’ 3.52 goals-per-game average is just ahead of Middlebury (3.50) and Bowdoin (3.40). Special teams have been key to Amherst’s success; the power play unit, which has registered at least one goal in 10 of the past 11 games, is the best in the nation with a .315 conversion rate. The Jeff penalty kill is equally as impressive, denying opponents at a .921 rate.
Looking to bring Amherst its fourth NESCAC title in the past five years are All-NESCAC defenders Randi Zukas and Geneva Lloyd. A skilled two-way player, Lloyd leads her team in scoring for the second-straight year with 29 points (10-19-29), just two shy of her rookie totals from 2009-10. Zukas enters the weekend just one point behind her blue line counterpart, as her 28 points on four goals and a league-high 24 assists are two short of the career-best. Zukas has recorded at least one point in eight consecutive games, while Courtney Hanlon ’11 has picked up at least one point in nine of her 10 career NESCAC tournament games, totaling 10 goals and seven points in those outings.
A year after the most successful season in program history, third-seeded Trinity (18-3-4, 10-3-3 NESCAC) is back in the semifinals with a championship rematch against Amherst on tap. The Bantams racked up a school-record 21 victories during the 2009-10 campaign and reached the finals for the first time ever after a marathon 2-1, quadruple-overtime win over Middlebury. Even though Trinity came up short to Amherst for the 2010 conference crown by a 2-1 score—in overtime—the Bantams received their first invitation to participate in the NCAA Tournament. There’s been no letdown for Trinity this season, as the Bantams head into the semis in the midst of a seven-game winning streak after rolling past Hamilton in the quarterfinals, 3-1.
Trinity is 1-2-3 against this year’s semifinal field, having recorded a tie against each opponent. The Bantams lost the first game of a two-game set to Amherst on Dec. 3, 6-2, but managed a 2-2 tie the next night. While Trinity is once again among the top teams in terms of scoring defense, the biggest difference between last year and this is the loss of goaltender Isabel Iwachiw, the 2010 NESCAC Player of the Year, to graduation. Filling in nicely for the Bantams has been first-year netminder Alexa Pujol (13-2-4), who is currently second only to Middlebury’s Bloom among league backstops in both goals-against average (1.26) and save percentage (.946). Leading Trinity in scoring for the third time in her career is senior forward Kim Weiss. The program’s all-time scoring leader, Weiss is in the midst of her best season in a Bantam sweater with a career-high 22 goals and 30 points.
2011 NESCAC Women’s Hockey Championship
Quarterfinal Round – Saturday, Feb. 26
No. 1 Middlebury def. No. 8 Williams, 6-2
No. 2 Amherst def. No. 7 Colby, 5-0
No. 3 Trinity def. No. 6 Hamilton, 3-1
No. 4 Bowdoin def. No. 5 Conn. College, 2-1
Semifinal Round – Saturday, Mar. 5
(Played at Middlebury)
No. 1 Middlebury vs. No. 4 Bowdoin – 1 p.m.
No. 2 Amherst vs. No. 3 Trinity – 4 p.m.
Championship Game – Sunday, Mar. 6
Semifinal Winners – 2 p.m.