Top-Ranked Women’s Basketball Avoids Upset, Remains Unbeaten
By Clay Andrews '13, Staff Writer
Women’s basketball looked unstoppable again this weekend, trouncing the competition to win the Pioneer Valley Classic tournament at LeFrak Gymnasium. Amherst defeated Emerson College in the first round Saturday, defeated Richard Stockton Sunday afternoon in the tournament championship game, and finally rallied to a victory against their toughest opponent in the season thus far.

Against Emerson, Amherst put the game out of reach early as senior co-captain Jaci Daigneault tallied two blocks, a couple of steals and a pair of free throws in under two minutes of play. She finished with game-highs in points (12), blocks (three) and steals (six), and finished with a perfect eight-for-eight from the line. The Jeffs stormed ahead to an 8-0 lead after only four minutes of play, overpowering 2-6 Emerson.

The early domination reached its peak when junior All-American Caroline Stedman jumped an Emerson pass on the left side, tight-roped the sideline and delivered a bounce pass strike to junior forward Jackie Renner under the basket for a quick transition layup, forcing a Lion timeout with the score 20-2 after only four minutes of play.

Later in the first half, sophomore forward Bridget Crowley capped off a second lead-extending surge, gracefully finishing a lead pass from junior Kim Fiorentino with a left-handed layup to stretch the gap to 35-10 in favor of the Jeffs. Fiorentino had herself quite a game as well, laying down the law defensively with five steals in her 15 minutes of playing time.

The second half spelled disaster for Emerson as the Lions managed only seven points the entire second half. The win proved to be truly a team effort as coach G.P. Gromacki continually cycled in fresh legs, trying out players at different positions and experimenting with various player combinations. The 93 points the Jeffs put up Saturday night marked the highest total the team has produced this year. “I think most of our success stems from how close we are, on and off the court and our competitiveness,” said sophomore guard Marcia Voigt. “We’re constantly encouraging each other to improve and constantly competing with each other.”

Amherst’s showdown with Richard Stockton in the finals of the tournament ended up being another lopsided affair, as the Jeffs took a comfortable 55-23 lead going into the half. The game was surprisingly close in the early going, after a 7-2 Richard Stockton run cut Amherst’s lead to 14-10 after over eight minutes of play, leading Coach Gromacki to sub Daigneault and Stedman back into the game along with Voigt to galvanize the Jeffs.

The turnaround started almost immediately as Voigt sparked the team with a three-pointer. After that point something clicked for the Jeffs, and the three-pointers started to rain down, with seven in just four and a half minutes.

When the debris settled, Amherst had amassed a 24-point lead with the score at 39-15 and still over six minutes to play in the first half. “We really wanted to show everyone how hard we’ve been working and what we’re made of,” Voigt said. “There are still many things that we need to work on both as a team and individually, but we are progressing and working hard each day to reach our potential.”

If there is one point of concern in Amherst’s game, it might be the Jeffs’ propensity to foul (they have out-fouled all seven of their challengers this season), although this aggressive play does force turnovers and missed shots, a key to Amherst’s success. “The tournament revealed that we as a team need to cut down on fouls defensively, and that is something we will really focus on in the coming weeks,” said Voigt. “We have the drive and talent to do some great things this year. We’re going to go in to every game with the same mindset: to have fun and get a win.”

After clinching the tournament, the Jeffs gutted out a hard-fought 75-62 victory over Emmanuel College on the road yesterday night in their toughest, most competitive game so far this season. Emmanuel grabbed a six-point lead — Amherst’s largest deficit of the season — less than seven minutes into the game, and Amherst quickly fell behind 17-11.

The resilient Jeffs battled back to tie things up at 21-21, then went on a nine-point surge to take a 30-21 lead. The feisty Emmanuel squad would not go away easily, however, storming back with an 11-0 scoring run to close the half. A layup from Emmanuel’s Kristin Lebel with a second left in the half gave the hosts a 32-30 lead, a shocking development for the top-ranked Jeffs.

Trailing at halftime for the first time this season, the Jeffs roared back in the second half. Led by Daigneault, the Jeffs came out inspired in the second half taking the lead within a minute, which they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. The full court pressure that had been so successful in stifling Amherst’s potent offense in the first half, proved unsustainable for Emmanuel for a full 40 minutes, as Amherst eventually broke them down, outscoring them 45-30 in the second half.

Looking ahead, the Jeffs have several games coming up. “We will take every game day by day and stay focused, as we always aim to do,” said Crowley, echoing the motto that has been at the heart of Amherst’s basketball success. Amherst (8-0) will play again this Thursday with a matchup against Eastern Connecticut at home. The Jeffs will then travel to Lehman on Saturday for another non-conference contest, and return home to host Springfield on Tuesday.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 15:52:29