Amherst Set to Play Middlebury in National Semifinals; Lord Jeffs in Search of Program's First NCAA Title
AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College women’s ice hockey team will continue its quest for the program’s first national title when the Lord Jeffs travel to Middlebury College to take on the host Panthers in the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship Semifinals on Friday, Mar. 20 at 7 p.m. Saturday's consolation game will begin at 3:30 p.m., with the championship beginning at 7 p.m.
Fans unable to attend this weekend’s games will be able to follow all of the action via live webcasts. Visit Middlebury’s Championship Website to access the webcast link, purchase tickets and more. The webcast of Friday's game between Amherst and Middlebury will be shown free of charge in Stirn Auditorium. Saturday's Amherst game will also be shown in Stirn regardless of Friday's outcome. All are welcome to attend, but please note that space is limited.
The host Panthers earned the NCAA Tournament’s lone first-round bye when they handed Amherst a 4-3 overtime loss in the NESCAC Championships finals to improve to 19-3-4. Competing in Friday’s other semifinal game are Elmira (23-4-1) and Wisconsin-River Falls (20-5-3), which will face off at 3:30 p.m.
This is Amherst’s second appearance in the national semifinals in the past three years. After claiming the program’s first NESCAC title in 2007, the Jeffs continued their improbable season with a 2-1 win over RIT in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round. Amherst suffered a 3-2 loss to eventual national champion Plattsburgh State in the finals before falling to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in overtime of the consolation game, 4-3.
NESCAC Co-Player of the Year Krystyn Elek leads the conference in goals-against average and save percentage.
Despite coming up short of a third consecutive NESCAC title, Amherst earned a trip to the national tournament for the third time in as many years, drawing a first-round home game against two-time defending champion Plattsburgh. After a scoreless first period, the Jeffs erupted for four goals in the second frame to cruise to a 4-1 victory, marking their first ever win over the Cardinals.
Two-time NESCAC Coach of the Year Jim Plumer has led Amherst to a 62-16-7 record (.771) in the past three years, winning at least 20 games in each season to give the Lord Jeffs elite status in Division III. In addition to this year’s Coach of the Year honor, Amherst earned four All-Conference selections to go along with goaltender Krystyn Elek’s Co-Player of the Year award. A two-time All-America selection, Elek leads the NESCAC in goals-against average (1.27) and save percentage (.949), placing her in the top five in Division III in both categories.
Leading Amherst’s attack is All-NESCAC First Team selection Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, CA). After leading the Jeffs in goals (15), assists (20) and points (35) as a first-year, Hanlon once again leads the team in each category. Three of Hanlon’s 18 goals came in the NESCAC semifinals against Connecticut College, before she added No. 18 against Plattsburgh State this past weekend. Her 32 points are tied for the second most in the conference.
Helping Hanlon on the attack have been All-NESCAC Second Team selection Lindsey Harrington, junior Kate Dennett and senior Tarasai Karega, who each enter the national semifinals with nine points and 13 assists for 22 points. While Karega surpassed the 100-point mark earlier this season, Harrington’s 47 goals and 50 assists leave her only three points shy of 100. Rounding out the Jeffs’ All-Conference honorees is sophomore Randi Zukas, who has totaled six goals and nine assists while helping to anchor the defense.
Five-time national champion Middlebury enters its semifinal showdown riding a six-game winning streak, with its last loss coming at the hands of Amherst by a 5-0 margin on Feb. 14. The Panthers posted a 3-2-2 record against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament, going 2-0 against Elmira, 0-0-2 against Plattsburgh and 1-2-0 against Amherst.
Leading the Panthers is the senior trio of Molly Vitt, Annmarie Cellino and Randi Dumont. While Vitt has scored 10 goals with 19 assists to lead her team in points as an All-NESCAC First Team selection, Cellino is close behind with 11 goals and 17 assists as a Second Team honoree. Also a First Team selection, Dumont is tied for third in the conference in defenseman scoring with two goals and 14 assists for 16 points.
Friday’s game will feature the NESCAC’s top-rated offense battling the top-rated defense. While Middlebury leads the conference in goals per game (4.04) and power play conversion rate (21.8 percent), Amherst boasts the best scoring defense (1.41 gpg) and penalty kill percentage (87.6). Both teams are extremely well-balanced, as 13 Amherst players and 11 from Middlebury have recorded at least 10 points this season.
Middlebury’s last national title came in 2006, which marked the third consecutive year the Panthers were the last team standing in the NCAA Tournament. Amherst needed to get through Middlebury to claim its first NESCAC title in 2007, and the Jeffs will once again need to get past their conference rival in order to earn the program’s first national title. The 2009 NCAA Division III Championship title game is set for Saturday, Mar. 21 at 7 p.m.
Quarterfinals – Mar. 14
Amherst def. Plattsburgh, 4-1
Elmira def. Norwich, 3-2
Wis.-River Falls def. Gustavus Adolphus, 2-1
Semifinals – Friday, Mar. 20
Elmira (23-4-1) vs. Wis.-River Falls (20-5-3) – 3:30 p.m.
Amherst (22-5) vs. Middlebury (19-3-4) – 7 p.m.
Saturday, Mar. 21
Consolation game – 3:30 p.m.
NCAA Championship – 7 p.m.