While success never comes easily to Amherst athletics, for teams this fall is has come often. The Jeffs kicked off 1997-98 with a valuable year of experience and the goal of improving upon last year's fabulous finishes. Now, at scarcely mid-season, Lord Jeff athletics is already well on its way, boasting a 44-7-1 record to date.
Coach E. J. Mills inherited a 7-1 football team appeared to have the potential, ability and determination to better that showing in 1997. Ranked 20th in the nation by a pre-season Sports Illustrated poll, the Jeffs roared out to a fast start, claiming nine shutout quarters before allowing opponents a point while racking up 90 of their own. Amherst is currently among only three 3-0 NESCAC schools as Little Three competition heats up among the undefeated teams.
The Jeffs again lead NESCAC defensively, allowing merely 17 points and 481 yards in three games. Opening the season with a 38-0 blanking at Hamilton, they claimed their second shutout with a 30-0 decision over Bowdoin. Before a home crowd, the Amherst defense demonstrated its might as it leveled nine sacks on the Polar Bears, who gained just nine yards of rushing offense. Leading the blitz has been senior outside linebacker Jake Conca, honored by the NESCAC as 1997's first Defensive Player of the Week.
Facing a bigger challenge, the Jeffs then hosted a formidable Middlebury team and relied on big plays to get the job done. Running back Darin Byrne racked up 129 yards on the ground and another 48 in the air as the junior posted Amherst's first two touchdowns toward a 15-0 lead. While Byrne earned league recognition by the ECAC, free safety Todd Nichols '99 claimed both NESCAC and ECAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for a fumble recovery and his second three-interception show in five games. Senior Dave Cippoletti registered the Jeffs' fourth pick of the day with just 1:31 to play as the lineman intercepted a Panther pass to preserve a precious five-point lead and Amherst's third straight 3-0 start.
While football prospers, men's soccer is thriving under the renewed direction of Peter Gooding. Bringing 22 years of experience with the Jeffs from 1968 to 1989, Gooding has led his squad to its finest showing since the NCAA season of 1993 and the Jeffs' highest ranking ever in the 77-year history of the team.
Amherst jumped into the New England Top Ten after blanking Brandeis 1-0 and tying defending ECAC Champion Connecticut College with a hat trick by sophomore Andy Kay. The forward and Matt Diggs '99 have haunted opposing keepers as they tally 10 goals between them.
A 3-1 victory over Bowdoin propelled the Jeffs into the top spot in the region and No. 7 in the nation. The squad one-upped itself a week later after posting its first regular season win over Middlebury in four years and entering the national Top Five. The Jeffs held a 6-0-1 mark at mid-season as they aim for the team's third bid to the NCAA Tourament in five years.
Amherst athletics reached another milestone with the field hockey program, where a 7-0 start improved upon last year's record of six straight wins to kick off the season. The Jeffs were powered early on by sophomore Tyra Gettleman, who scored seven goals in the first four games of the year. One game later, Amherst posted its 20th tally of the season to surpass last year's season goal total, accomplished in 15 matches through the post-season. Bolstering Amherst's offensive tear are junior Sandy Accordino and rookie Gretchen Bowe, a pair claiming credit for over one-third of the Jeffs' scores.
The Jeffs shut out six of their first seven opponents behind league-leading goalie Jes Rich '99 before facing Middlebury. The Jeffs held onto a 1-0 lead until the Panthers equalized less than a minute before the half-time buzzer. A shot midway through the second half proved to be the game-winner as Middlebury snapped the Amherst opening win-streak for the second straight year.
Slated as the third best team in the nation after a Final Four finish in 1996, women's soccer experienced a harsh reality check with a 1-0 loss to Smith in overtime, just two games into the season. While Amherst outshot the Pioneers 41-19, a score with just five minutes to play in extra periods was enough to slay the giant and bounce the Jeffs out of the national top-25. But Amherst rebounded with a force to win their next seven straight, including a 3-1 decision over perennial foe Bowdoin. All-American Shaunette Richards '98 kicked off the Amherst offensive, which has out-shot opponents 204-96 to date. Junior forward Katie Hersey led the Jeffs with six goals early in the season, including the game-winner in overtime over Middlebury.
Backstopping the Jeffs has been one of New England's strongest defenses, anchored by the senior trio of Ellie Hickerson, Laura Kochansky and All-American swimmer Kerry Weeks. Sarah Fabian '98 tackles her second year in net after earning NCAA All-Tournament accolades in 1996 and NESCAC Player of the Week honors in early October for knocking away 14 Panther shots toward five shutouts at the midpoint of the season.
Another traditionally strong team, women's tennis, boasts a No.1 ranking in New England with a perfect 5-0 record. Cruising to victories over NESCAC rivals Trinity, Bowdoin, Colby and Wesleyan, the Jeffs faced slight difficulty against Skidmore but prevailed in the end with a 5-4 win. Rookie Jamie Cohen '01 has made a solid impact early in her career, registering a perfect 9-0 singles record, including the crown at the Rolex Championships. Cohen ousted teammate Pam Diamond '99 in the semifinals toward the title, while she and fellow frosh Carolyn Pastel emerged from the doubles draw by default over the team of Diamond-Neely Steinberg '99.
Women's volleyball quickly moved to a 14-5 record by mid-season, finishing first in its own Amherst Invitational for the fourth straight year. Cruising to a 3-0 win over Connecticut College, the "Firedogs" avenged an earlier loss to Middlebury with a 3-2 squeaker before posting their second sweep of Westfield State for the title. Leading the team are the attacking team of Adrienne Beshong and Kristen Edgar who combine for five kills per game, while junior Nell Berens is a menace at the net as she averages over two blocks per game.
Cross country was also enjoying a strong season with increasing numbers of runners each year to make the Jeffs competitive with the best in the region. The women claimed their second straight title at the Connecticut College Invitational behind the solid front-running of senior Co-captain Kelly Jennings, while Rob Mitchell has dominated every men's race he has entered. In four races to date, the junior has finished a commanding 1st every time, including setting course bests both at Connecticut College and at Amherst with the first-ever sub-26 minute clocking.
Coming off NCAA seasons last spring, both men's and women's golf enjoyed continued success for the fall. While the women must compete as individuals, All-New England golfer Cyd Stevens '98 consistently cut down her strokes with each tournament, claiming first place finishes among Division III golfers at virtually every competition.
Meanwhile the men earned the title of NESCAC Champions, finishing first by 12 strokes over the Ephs at Williams. Senior Co-captain Erik Hardenbergh claimed top honors at the tournament as he joined fellow captain David Fiorentino and sophomore Joe Graceffa on the All-League team with finishes in the Top Five of the tournament. The squad followed up by placing first among Division III schools and 13th overall at their own Toski Invitational.
Club teams are enjoying similar success to their varsity counterparts as crew, rugby, ultimate frisbee and water polo neared the end of their seasons. While the men had yet to race, women's crew was optimistic with a strong core of dedicated and motivated rookies. Both men's and women's rugby were rucking over their opponents as the men boasted a 3-1 record and the women stood at 1-0-1.
With convincing victories over arch foe Williams, both men's and women's ultimate frisbee enjoyed their finest seasons yet. Both teams earned berths to regionals, from which the men escaped first among college teams to advance to sectionals. And with their season completed, water polo finished 1-7 with a novice squad, led by rookies Myles Ranier, Warren Seubel and Mike Niemack.
Taken from the Fall 1997 issue of Amherst, the quarterly alumni magazine.