6'5" power forward Steve Zieja '03 fell just two points shy of becoming only the fifth player in school history to score 500 points in a season in 2000-01
25th Ranked Jeffs Poised for Season-Opener Against Mass. College
November 26, 2001
AMHERST, MA - Ranked 25th in the nation according to the latest D3Hoops.com national poll, the defending NESCAC and Little Three champion Amherst College men's basketball team opens its season Tuesday night at 7 p.m. against visiting non-league foe Mass. College. The Jeffs are looking for their ninth consecutive postseason appearance and a possible third straight NCAA Tournament berth.
2000-01: A LOOK BACK
Amherst entered the 2000-01 season with a new pot of gold at the end of its postseason rainbow. After years of relying on an at-large bid as its only means of securing a slot in the NCAA Tournament, the NESCAC finally made the transition to a full playing conference, with an automatic bid awarded to the winner of a seven-team postseason championship tournament after a rigorous nine-game league slate.
With that in mind, the Jeffs attacked their most difficult schedule in recent memory - including a slew of tough non-conference matchups against regional powers Babson College, Brandeis University, Worcester State and Clark University - and finished in a four-way tie for first place in the final NESCAC regular season standings. With a 6-3 conference mark, Amherst secured the number-four seed in the NESCAC Tournament and swept Williams, Colby and Trinity Colleges, claiming the conference's first-ever postseason championship and earning a trip to its second consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The Jeffs rode a seven-game winning streak into their first-round NCAA matchup against visiting St. John Fischer College and easily dispatched the Cardinals, 89-76, equaling a school record with their 22nd win of the season. The victory set up an eagerly anticipated rematch with Clark, which downed Amherst in triple-overtime earlier in the season in what was the longest and highest-scoring game in school history, despite a career-high 39 points from senior guard Brian Daoust. Unfortunately, history was destined to repeat itself as the host Cougars used outstanding defensive intensity and bench-play to mount a 16-2 run in the last 10 minutes to advance to the NCAA "Sweet-16" for the first time in over a decade.
Nevertheless, the Jeffs finished their season with a stellar 22-6 overall record, including a first-ever three-game sweep over archrival Williams and a second consecutive outright Little III Championship. Meanwhile, Daoust was a First-Team All-NESCAC and Second-Team ECAC All-Region selection and capped a stellar four-year career by winning the 2001 Bob Cousy Award as the best player in New England under 6-feet tall irrespective of Division. Sophomore forward Steve Zieja joined Daoust as a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection, while Head Coach Dave Hixon was a near-unanimous choice for NESCAC Coach of the Year honors. Senior tri-captains Daoust, Erik Kelly and Abe Sexson graduated as one of the winningest classes in school history, with a 77-26 four-year record, including two trips to the ECAC semifinals, a pair of NCAA Tournament berths and a 7-2 career record against Williams.
2001-02: A LOOK AHEAD
Despite losing to graduation one of the best players in school history in Brian Daoust and a pair of valuable floor leaders in Erik Kelly and Abe Sexson, Amherst returns with the bulk of its roster intact and a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament in its sights.
Newly elected tri-captain Steve Zieja, a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection as a sophomore, will anchor a stacked frontcourt after pouring in a team-high 17.8 points per game during a breakout 2000-01 season. A 6'5" power forward, Zieja finished fourth in the NESCAC in rebounding (8.6 rpg) and sixth in free throw percentage (.787%). He fell just two points shy of becoming only the fifth player in Amherst history to score 500 points in a season. 6'8" junior center Pat Fitzsimons joins Zieja in the paint after finishing second in the NESCAC in blocked shots (2.1 bpg) and third in rebounding (9.3 rpg) to go along with a hearty 10.2 point scoring average as a sophomore. Senior captains Paul Williams and Pat Taverna were key reserves during last season's NCAA Tournament run and will provide added experience at forward, as will 6'4" sophomore Tim Jones, who played in 15 games as a rookie.
The Jeffs' backcourt will be equally formidable, with junior Ryan Faulkner - who led the NESCAC with 5.9 assists per game last season - returning at point guard along with explosive sophomore floor generals Adam Harper and John Donovan. A disruptive defensive presence, Harper posted a team-high 59 steals in just 18.2 minutes per game last season, while Donovan was a skilled playmaker and slick passer in limited action off the bench. On the perimeter, sophomore sharpshooter John Kloepfer should provide valuable scoring punch off the bench.
Head Coach Dave Hixon's troops will also get a boost from a trio of high-profile newcomers - point guard Ray Corrigan from Queens, NY, shooting guard Brian Preston from New Hyde Park, NY and 6'7" forward Andrew Schiel from Abbington, PA.
Amherst opens its NESCAC slate on Friday, January 18, at Williams. As usual, the Jeffs will face a slew of tough non-conference foes, highlighted by a December 4 matchup at Clark University and a trio of high-profile tournaments - the Ken Wright '52 Memorial Amherst Invitational (Nov. 30 - Dec. 1) featuring Vassar College, Rivier College and Stevens Tech, the Pioneer Valley Invitational (Dec. 7-8) featuring Western New England, Westfield State and Springfield College and the Bahama House Classic (Jan. 1-2) at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Florida.