Amherst athletics kicked off the 1997-98 campaign with another phenomenal fall as teams compiled an amazing 77-25-2 combined record, winning three-quarters (75.0%!) of all contests! No team won less than 65% of its matchups, while five tore through the regular season into tournament time. In the post-season, the Jeffs claimed three regional championships and a pair of top-ten national finishes. By the end of the fall, teams had claimed four Little III titles, tied or shattered 11 school records, and boasted five All-Americans, 16 regional All-Stars and 19 All-League athletes. 1997 has proved to be one of Amherst's finest falls in the history of varsity athletics at the College on the Hill!
Men's soccer became the Cinderella story of the season as the Jeffs jumped out to a 7-0-1 start before finishing in the program's first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance (see story, page 8). Despite graduating one of Amherst's strongest soccer classes, the Jeffs worked harder than ever to avoid the "rebuilding year" that most had expected.
The Jeffs' work ethic paid off with three straight weeks as the top team in New England as they soared in the national polls. The Jeffs peaked with men's soccer's highest national ranking ever as the fourth-best team in the country, and where the team will kick off its 1998 campaign.
Despite suffering a mid-season slide, the Jeffs rebounded when it mattered the most as they posted a 2-1 overtime tipping of archrival Williams to propel Amherst into the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, the Jeff victory denied the Ephs an invitation to the Big Dance, as Williams has ousted Amherst in the New England Championship in both earlier NCAA appearances.
The Jeffs continued to elevate their game throughout the post-season. Eliminating Middlebury in penalty kicks, Amherst tallied two shutouts in the tournament as opponents were unable to catch up to speedy forwards Andy Kay and Matt Diggs, or to penetrate the backfield of Ben Haley, Jon George, Mike Grant, Nate McDonald and keeper Kevin Larner. Finishing with a 12-3-2 record, this "rebuilding team" rose far above expectations and re-set the standard for most wins in a season, formerly 11 wins in 1989, Head Coach Peter Gooding's last year with the team before returning this fall.
Meanwhile, women's soccer has established itself as a regular in the NCAAs as the squad made its fourth straight appearance in 1997. Coming off a Final Four season of their own, the Jeffs kicked off the season with a No. 3 national ranking, with which they pounded Trinity 3-0 in the season opener. An overtime stunning by Smith knocked Amherst out of the national top-25, but the team fought its way back with an 11-game win streak, the longest in team history.
Highlighting the midseason were three wins over NESCAC teams. Pushed to overtime against Middlebury, keeper Sarah Fabian made 14 saves to hold off the Panthers as All-New England forward Katie Hersey tallied her sixth goal of the season four minutes into sudden death overtime.
Hersey would make an encore two weeks later in a 3-2 Homecoming thriller against Wesleyan. Trailing 2-0, Katie Connelly rallied the Jeffs' with their first goal in the 78th minute. Connelly, who had notched the decisive lone-goal against archrival Williams, sent a cross to Genny Furst seven minutes later to tie the match. Hersey knocked in the game-winner in the extra period off an Ellie Hickerson corner kick.
The Jeffs proved in the NCAAs that the Wesleyan game was more than just luck when they repeated the feat with twice the pressure in half the time. Seeded No. 1 in the Metro Region, Amherst found itself down a pair of goals to William Paterson with under ten to play and an early tournament exit looming over Hitchcock Field. Lesley Greene threaded a cross to two-time All-American Shaunette Richards for the Jeffs' first tally, and Connelly would explode just 47 seconds later for the equalizer. Despite 30 scoreless minutes of overtime, the sophomore blasted a shot past the keeper in the 131st minute of play for a trip to the national quarterfinals.
The seven seniors in the Class of '98 will graduate as Amherst's most successful women's soccer squad, compiling a 51-9-6 (81.8%) record over four years. The seniors finish with a 7-0-1 mark against Little III opponents with four titles and four NCAA appearances.
The Class of '98 also proved to be the crux of the football team as the first class since 1987 to experience four winning seasons on the gridiron. Directed by first-year head coach E.J. Mills, the defense was the heart of the team, holding opponents to under 100 points and fewer than 2,000 yards as the best in the NESCAC for the last two seasons. The unit also helped Amherst tie its own record for most shutouts in a season of NESCAC play with three, accomplished within the first four games of the year.
Amherst roared out to a 7-0 start by outscoring opponents 210-45. Blanking both Hamilton and Bowdoin, the Jeffs ran out to a 22-3 lead on a tough Middlebury team behind Darin Byrne's career high 129 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Anchoring the defense, Todd Nichols registered the second three-interception game in his career to stifle the Panther pass game while Middlebury gained only 11 yards on the ground. Devin Moriarty showcased his defensive prowess at Colby the following week as he leveled three of his nine sacks and blocked a punt in a 35-0 rout of the White Mules.
The offense added to opponents' nightmares in the second half of the season, kicked off by racking up a season-high 539 yards of total offense against Wesleyan. Quarterback Rich Willard threw his first of two 300+ yard performances, boosted by a 73-yard bomb in the endzone to wideout Todd Haggerty to break open the game.
Willard's arm proved lethal again at Williams as the Jeffs fought for their first undefeated season since 1984. Amherst experienced its first deficit of the season on the opening series, and the Jeffs watched that rift grow to an astounding 17 points by the middle of the second quarter. Trailing 24-7, Willard found Shaun Quigley in the endzone with a 34-yard toss to kick off a 24-point rally. Amherst shut out Williams in the third quarter, where the Jeffs notched 151 offensive yards on 9-for-14 passing while allowing only 67 Eph yards.
But Williams notched a key interception late in the quarter to swing the momentum in favor of the Ephs. Midway through the fourth, Williams had reclaimed the lead 45-31. Amherst responded with a 10-play, 86-yard drive to cut the lead in half before pulling within one on a 34-yard catch by rookie Matt Hall. Hall set up to hold Liam Fleming's PAT attempt with 1:49 on the clock, but the high school quarterback surprised fans around the world with a two-point conversion to Haggerty deep in the endzone for a precarious 46-45 lead. Fearing Homecoming humiliation, Williams picked up 70 yards on nine plays, including the game-winning field goal with two ticks on the game clock.
While the Ephs again spoiled Amherst hopes of a perfect season, the Jeffs had won a piece of the Little III title after Wesleyan had upstaged the Ephs 28-14.
Field hockey fell to the Ephs in similar fashion, a 1-0 decision made with merely eight seconds left in the game. Outshooting Williams 14-3, the Jeffs had a goal called back because of a dangerous play, but they nevertheless earned a three-way split of the Little III crown with a dramatic victory over Wesleyan. Not unlike women's soccer at the other end of Hitchcock Field, field hockey found itself trailing the Cardinals 2-0 with less than seven minutes to play. All-American Irene Permut fed a ball to Alie Stechenberg for the Jeffs' first score with 6:17 remaining, and senior Heather Kestner would tally an equalizer three minutes later to bring on sudden death. Less than five minutes into extra time, Stechenberg found Gretchen Bowe for one of the forward's nine goals of her rookie season.
Amherst field hockey had started 1997 with its strongest showing ever. Behind eight early goals by sophomore Tyra Gettleman, the Jeffs roared to a 25-2 scoring advantage in a 7-0 start, the program's finest in its 23-year varsity history. Amherst shut out six of its first seven opponents, scoring fewer than three goals in only one game during that span. This lethal offense generated a school-best 38 goals for the season, powered by six players with four or more tallies.
Rounding out the regular season with a 4-1 romp over Colby, the Jeffs returned to the post-season for the third straight year with a No. 5 seed in the ECAC Championship. However, Keene State got on the board just 97 seconds into the match, and the Owls added an insurance goal before the half. Permut tallied the fourth goal of her junior season to wrap up a 10-5 year.
Women's volleyball also finished its season in the ECACs, the fifth straight for the Firedogs. They pounded Keene State 15-0, 15-2, 15-2 to open the season before posting a perfect 4-0 showing in LeFrak Gymnasium with their fourth straight Amherst Invitational title. The Firedogs cruised through the middle of the season, easily winning the NESCAC Quad at Bowdoin without dropping a game. Erin Greenspun and Nell Berens had earned All-Tournament honors the week before at the Bowdoin Invitational. Berens spent much of the season among the nation's leaders in blocks, finishing her junior campaign averaging 2.7 per game.
Despite dropping matches to Smith and Tufts in their early meetings, the Firedogs avenged the losses late in the season to upset the Pioneers at home and to claim a third place finish at the NESCAC Championships with a four-game win over the third-seeded Jumbos. Leading the Firedogs were All-League hitters Greenspun and Kristen Edgar, and senior co-captain Liz Delsman, who earned NESCAC Honorable Mention. In the post-season, Amherst turned around an earlier 3-1 loss to Gordon open the tournament before battling host Smith in a four-game semifinal loss for a 25-13 season.
Women's tennis served up its third straight New England Championship after a perfect 9-0 season. The Jeffs held onto a No. 1 ranking in New England throughout the season, cruising to three 9-0 wins over their first five opponents before handily claiming the Rolex Championship crown. Rookie Jamie Cohen won both draws, knocking off teammate Pam Diamond in the semifinals toward a singles title and teaming up with fellow first-year Carolyn Pastel for the doubles title, won by default as they met juniors Diamond and Neely Steinberg in the championship match.
Amherst captured its third straight Little III title as the Jeffs headed into New Englands. Diamond and Steinberg extended their regional reign with their third straight doubles title and second singles title each. Pastel claimed a New England Championship at No. 6 singles while Sally Childs and Sam Toerge emerged victorious from the third-doubles draw. Following her 28-2 sophomore performance, Steinberg finished her fall with a 16-1 singles record, as did Cohen who suffered her first loss in the semifinals of New Englands.
Rob Mitchell proved to be unstoppable on any course as the cross country junior was undefeated against Division III runners until early November. The co-captain broke an Amherst course record in his first race of the season, and he would shave another 25 seconds off his home-best to lead the men to a second-place finish at Little IIIs. Mitchell placed third overall against all Divisions at New Englands as the men placed 12th overall and 4th in Division III. Fellow juniors Dan Chandler and Jon Prokup ran strong races throughout the year, and Brian Larivee bolted out at the start as one of Amherst's core runners in his rookie campaign.
Dini Pineda was solid as the women's front runner after senior co-captain Kelly Jennings fell to injury in the midseason. The women handily defended their title at the Connecticut College Invitational after vaulting to a third-place finish at the Williams Invitational. Bolstered by the running of Megan Duncan-Smith and other rookies, the women continue to grow in numbers as one of the fastest improving teams in New England.
Coming off NCAA spring seasons, golf continued its success into the fall as the men won the NESCAC Championship. Senior co-captains Erik Hardenbergh and David Fiorentino earned All-League distinction along with sophomore Joe Graceffa, a trio that powered the team to a 1st place finish among Division III teams at the Toski Invitational. The Jeffs finished third in New England. Cyd Stevens ranked among the finest individual women in the region, as the squad was too small to earn a team score
Club teams enjoyed similar success to their varsity counterparts as crew, rugby, ultimate frisbee and water polo completed their fall seasons with strong showings. Despite inexperience and youth, both men's and women's crew made long strokes toward rebuilding a formidable program under the new coaching staff of Bill Stekl, John Carey and Jonathan Lehr '92.
Men's and women's rugby continued to ruck over opponents, though injuries disrupted the dominance of the squads. The men opened up with three convincing wins in their first four matches over Boston University, Boston College and Brown before finishing fourth in the New England Football Rugby Union (NEFRU) with a 4-1 league record. Similarly, the women roared out to a 3-0-1 start before losing captain Michele Jefferson '98 to injury for the rest of the season. The Jeffs suffered defeat in their next two matches before avenging an earlier loss to Boston College with a 10-8 win in the NEFRU Tournament. And, as is tradition in rugby, both the men and women picked up another batch of "white" jerseys after they pummelled archrival Williams on all sides.
With convincing victories over arch foe Williams, men's and women's ultimate 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 led by All-New England Second Team-ers Darren Teshima '00 and Myles Ranier '01, water polo finished 1-7 with a novice squad, bolstered by rookies Warren Seubel and Mike Niemack.