Taking Charge
By Amro el-Adle '13, Section Editor
The Amherst College women’s basketball team improved their record to a sterling 17-0, including 3-0 in NESCAC play, with 10 wins since Dec. 10.

First up were the Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) Warriors, who fell 53-34 to the Jeffs. In a defensive-minded game that saw Amherst shoot 32.3 percent from the field, the Jeffs’ defense also held tough, limiting the Warriors to a dismal 19.2 percent from the field, including 4-29 in the second half. Despite their shooting woes, Amherst managed a sizeable lead for much of the game, before ECSU pulled within six on a couple of free-throws with about 12 minutes remaining in the second half. But Amherst managed to hold ESCU at bay for the rest of the game behind a strong effort from junior All-American Jaci Daigneault, who poured in two free-throws, two rebounds, a block and a steal over the next minute. Sophomore Kim Fiorento filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, seven boards, five assists and three steals in the victory, with fellow sophomore Jackie Renner contributing 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the Jeffs.

Five nights later, the Jeffs routed Springfield College 69-29 at the birthplace of basketball. Five minutes into the game, the Jeffs had pulled out to a 21-9 lead, fueled by back-to-back three-pointers from Fiorentino and a third three from sophomore Shannon Finucane. The Jeffs would extend that lead to 27-13 with 9:33 to go before the Pride’s bench held them scoreless for five minutes. That’s when first-year Marcia Voigt came off the bench for a quick five points to send the Jeffs into the locker room with a 35-17 lead.

The Amherst defense once again became the story in the second half, as they started out with a 13-2 run, spurred on by five steals during that span. The Jeffs forced a ridiculous 33 turnovers on the night, with 20 of those coming via steals. In fact, Amherst’s stingy defense gave up only one field goal during a 14-minute drought for the Pride. Voigt finished with a then career-high 13 points in 17 minutes, Fiorentino added 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and junior co-captain Sarah Leyman helped the Jeffs win the battle of the boards 40-25 with 10 points and 11 rebounds. “Day in and day out during practice coach stresses defense, and we push one another to grow in the part of our game,” said sophomore Lem Atanga McCormick. “Often time when we play good defense it can balance out what may be a poor offensive night and that in itself is reassuring and helps us stay in games.”

After a two-week recess, Amherst took to the hardwood at LeFrak and beat up the Lehman College Lightning 80-37. The Lightning faced three nationally ranked, undefeated teams in a span of five games, and they played like it. All 11 Amherst players scored, with none of the starters, or any of the other players for that matter, playing for more than 22 minutes. Much of the damage came on the offensive glass, where Amherst had nearly as many offensive rebounds as Lehman did total rebounds for the game, 23 to 26. Four Amherst players scored in double-figures, with Finucane pacing the Jeffs with 13, and four Amherst players also grabbed at least five rebounds, with Leyman grabbing six offensive rebounds.

The team continued its march through the schedule with an 80-53 drubbing of Wesleyan University. Amherst jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead after Wesleyan came out careless with the ball, turning it over four times in their first seven possessions. With a 22-8 lead midway through the first half, the Jeffs were evacuated out of Silloway Gymnasium, along with everyone else, for a 45-minute fire alarm delay. Once back in the gym, Caroline Stedman ’12 wasted little time, hitting back-to-back threes to put the Jeffs up 32-14. The team went into the half leading 39-21 after Leyman finished off an and-one. Early in the second, Wesleyan pulled to within 42-30 before Atanga McCormick cooled off the Cardinals with consecutive scores, followed up by a jumper from Voigt to stretch the lead back to 51-36. From there, the Jeffs cruised to the victory, with Atanga McCormick finishing with 15 points and 11 boards and Leyman adding in a double-double of her own with 13 points and 10 boards.

The Jeffs added a second win over a Little Three opponent as they hammered Williams 75-51 on the road. The Jeffs jumped out to an 11-2 lead as the front line played big, with Daigneault scoring seven of those points. The team continued to pound the ball inside to Leyman, who put the Jeffs up 15-8 with 10 minutes to go. After Williams pulled to within five at 18-13, Amherst sank a flurry of threes to surge back up 26-15. But the Ephs battled back with a minute left in the half, cutting the lead to 31-23 before Leyman recaptured the double-digit lead with a pair of free throws.

Amherst went up 39-23 after three quick buckets in the second half, and following a Williams timeout, Daigneault had two three-point plays to extend the lead to 53-31 with 12 minutes to go. Amherst once again rested its starters down the stretch as they pulled out the easy victory. Daigneault tied her career high with 23 points, with both 23-point outbursts coming against archrival Williams. Renner, Stedman and Leyman also poured in double figure scoring with 11, 12 and 10 respectively. They also combined for 23 rebounds.

In their following contest against Clark University, the Jeffs made quick work of the Cougars in an 87-44 trouncing. In a first half where they shot 53.8 percent from the field, the Jeffs started out the game 10-13 from the floor, and led by as many as 48 in the game. They also used crisp passing to get 23 assists on 35 baskets, as well as outscoring Clark 32-14 in the paint. As impressive as the Jeffs’ offense was, their defense was equally as impressive, as they held the Cougars to 30 percent from the field while forcing 26 turnovers. In fact, Clark did not manage a second half basket until the 7:52 mark. Finucane paced the Jeffs with 14 points as every Amherst player scored, with everyone but Voigt netting at least five points. Voigt did, however, garner a career-high five assists.

The Lord Jeffs suited up for Wesleyan and began NESCAC play with a bang, sinking the Cardinals 89-49. As usual, Amherst jumped out to a 23-4 lead, spurred by a blistering 7-9 from behind the arc in the first half. Voigt and Finucane had two threes each in the first half, and Stedman chipped in with three threes of her own. Amherst went into the break leading 51-23.

Wesleyan managed a better job of keeping up for the first few minutes of the second half, but Finucane hit a momentum-swinging four-point play with 12:37 to go. The rest of the game followed the familiar Amherst prototype, as the Jeffs closed out strong for the win. Atanga McCormick, Voigt, Finucane, Leyman and Stedman all finished in double figures for the Jeffs. Also worth noting is that the Jeffs actually shot better from behind the arc, at 61.1 percent, than they did from two-point range, as their field-goal percentage for the game was 55.7 percent.

In their following game, also in NESCAC play, the Jeffs thrashed Connecticut College 91-35 at home. After their usual early-game offense sputtered against the Camels, Coach G.P. Gromacki sparked the offense with up-and-coming first-year Voigt and Atanga McCormick, who carried the Jeffs to 28-10 lead by the 8:40 mark. A 29-2 run by the Jeffs sent them into the locker room with a 47-24 lead.

The Jeffs exerted their willpower more effectively in the second half, as they put together a 20-2 run, capped off by back-to-back threes by Finucane. Atenga McCormick finished the game with 20 points on 9-10 shooting, and she was joined in double-figure scoring by Stedman, Daigneault and Finucane.

The Jeffs kicked off the longest road trip in program history with a gritty, come from behind victory at Richard Stockton College, 70-55. In a stark contrast to all of their games until that point, the Jeffs struggled to build a lead in the first half that included seven lead changes and five ties. For the first time this season, the Jeffs went into the locker room without the lead as Richard Stockton took a 28-26 advantage at the break.

The Jeffs shot a measly 36.7 percent from the field in the first half, but also compounded their woes by going 1-6 from the charity stripe. In the second half, Finucane led the charge with 16 of her career-high 22 points. It was a Finucane jumper that sparked a 12-3 Amherst run, and resulted in 55-43 edge. Amherst also got more aggressive in the second half, as they got to the free-throw line 12 times, and made all 12 of those attempts. While Finucane led the Jeffs in scoring, McCormick and Leyman grabbed 11 rebounds apiece.

Against Trinity College in their third NESCAC game, Amherst pulled out a 75-55 win for their 17th consecutive victory to start the season. The Jeffs’ offense lulled to start the game, as both teams combined for 13 points in five minutes. Just when Amherst looked ready to take the lead for good behind a Daigneault layup, Trinity answered with an 8-0 streak to climb back to 21-19. Another Amherst scoring run put them up 33-26 heading into the half, led by Voigt’s 10 points in her first career start.

Amherst got the lead they were looking for with a 22-8 run to start the second half, as Voigt scored six points in the stretch. The Bantams’ hopes seemed to dribble away after that, as the Jeffs finished out the game with relative comfort. Voigt finished with a career-high 22 points in 37 minutes of action, and Renner also had a career-high 13 points to go along with 7 boards. Leyman chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Stedman added 13 points.

The Jeffs won’t face any competition until next weekend, when they travel to Bowdoin and Colby. They remain the second-ranked team in the D3hoops.com rankings.

Issue 12, Submitted 2010-01-27 02:17:51