Band of Brothers

imageFrom left, brothers Cole, Josh and Derek Cherney are
among the most accomplished siblings to come through the athletics program.

By Alex Kantor

The fourth quarter of the Amherst-Williams men’s lacrosse game on April 14, 2007, will go down in program history. With Amherst trailing, 8-6, heading into the final stanza, Derek Cherney ’07 went on a scoring streak that has been burned into the memory of all those at the Williamstown match that day. The 2004 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Cherney was on his way to leading the Lord Jeffs in scoring for the fourth consecutive season, capping off a career in which he would accumulate 118 goals and 204 points. Fewer than two and a half minutes into the final quarter, a pair of Cherney scores tied up the game. But the Ephs went on to take a 9-8 lead. Then, with four minutes to go, Cherney took one more chance to find the net, forcing overtime. Amherst went on to win, 10-9, in the extra frame. Cherney led the way that afternoon with five goals and one assist.

Weeks later, the NESCAC named Cherney, a political science major, its player of the year. It was the second time in three years that he had won the league’s top award. He also achieved a rare feat by being named to the NESCAC All-Conference First Team for the fourth year in a row.

Cherney made a name for himself at Amherst, but even before he arrived on campus, his last name was a familiar one in Amherst lacrosse circles. His older brother, Josh Cherney ’05, was an established contributor on the team. When Josh was deciding where to go to college, his choice was between “a perennially strong Middlebury program and an Amherst program on the rise,” recalls Amherst head coach Tom Carmean. Josh’s first two years saw the Jeffs post a pair of winning seasons.

While Josh was a sophomore, Derek became a prime recruit for Amherst. Derek had flown under the radar of the majority of programs for most of high school, but his skills were put on display in his senior year, when he racked up an unreal 10 points in a sectional semifinal win in the ultra-competitive New York region.

 “Academically,” Josh says, “I always knew the familial atmosphere at Amherst was the perfect fit for Derek. Athletically, it was clear, from playing together in high school and then seeing the dedication and hard work Derek put in to develop his game, that he had the potential to be one of the best players in the nation.”

Derek had already grabbed the attention of the Amherst coaching staff, and while other offers poured in during his final high school season, he remained committed to Amherst. He says it would have been “very difficult not to like the school” where his brother was so happy. Josh and Derek played two seasons of collegiate lacrosse together. “Not only was it great to play together,” Josh says, “but working out and training, lifting on campus and at home during breaks, we were there to push one another.” Josh went on to receive the Friends of Amherst Athletics award as a senior and to graduate Phi Beta Kappa.

Derek, meanwhile, helped put the Lord Jeffs on the map, graduating with a string of impressive milestones (including the 100-goal mark and the 200-point plateau) and as one of the most decorated players in program history. Last year, he was drafted to play for Major League Lacrosse’s Washington Bayhawks. Derek is now one of only three former Division III players in the top professional league. He recorded 18 points in 11 games as a rookie last year. In addition, he works full-time as a financial analyst for the CIT Group in New York City.

But that’s not even close to the end of the story. A year ago, Josh returned to Amherst as an assistant lacrosse coach and a manager of the college’s endowment, and in August, younger brother Cole Cherney ’12 arrived on campus as a lacrosse player. (It wasn’t Cole’s first extended time on campus: in 2002, when Josh worked at an Amherst summer camp, Cole enrolled as a camper.)

“Cole never had the opportunity to actually play with his brothers,” says Meryl Cherney, their mother, “but he played all of the same sports, often for the same coaches, so the brothers always had plenty to discuss. Cole decided very early on that Amherst was the place that he most wanted to go.”

Cole joins a men’s lacrosse team that is seeking a go-to force on offense, having graduated its top scorer last year for the second consecutive season. Thomas McDonnell ’10 will be a leading candidate to fill that void after finishing last season ranked fourth in the conference in points and goals. Brett Miller ’09 was the NESCAC leader in assists last season, with 32, and will once again be a major factor for the Jeffs. With McDonnell and Miller returning to attack, Cole and a handful of teammates will vie for playing time early in the season.

The Jeffs ended last season with an 8-7 overall record, finishing fourth in the NESCAC standings. This season, Amherst decided to scrap its traditional pre-season trip to Florida. Instead, after a trio of games in New England, the Jeffs will take an over­night trip to Long Island, N.Y., to face Connecticut College. Amherst opens at Tufts on March 7, before hosting Hartwick College on March 11 in the 2009 home opener.

The Cherneys are not the first set of brothers to attend Amherst, but they are already among the most accomplished
siblings to come through the athletic department. When most first-year student-athletes arrive at college, the challenges they face—living away from home, taking hard courses, playing sports at a higher level—can make for sleepless nights. But Cole can rest easy. No one knows what the season holds in store, but whatever happens, Josh will be there as a guide along the way.

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04