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Pat Fitzsimons '03
Senior tri-captain center Pat Fitzsimons led the NESCAC in blocked shots and field goal percentage as a junior

Two-Time Defending NESCAC Champion Jeffs Eye 10th Straight Postseason

August 12, 2002

2001-02 RECAP
2001-02 was a season of impressive feats for the Amherst men's basketball team. Far starters, head coach Dave Hixon's Jeffs racked up a school-record 22 wins and swept Bowdoin, Williams and Trinity Colleges en route to their second consecutive NESCAC Postseason Tournament Championship, earning an automatic bid to their fifth overall and third straight NCAA Tournament. There they drew a first-round bye, downed visiting Western Connecticut State 82-77 in the NCAA Second Round and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994. Yet, with all its success, the team felt like it could have done more. Leading by eight points with 3:28 left in regulation in the Sectional Round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jeffs fell victim to a 13-0 SUNY Brockport run, as the host Golden Eagles rose from the dead to deny Amherst what seemed like an inevitable trip to the NCAA Elite Eight. "Naturally, we felt we had a good opportunity to advance further," says Hixon, who enters his 26th season with a 416-204 career record. "One more good possession would have won the game. Winning the NESCAC was the most important thing, but advancing a step or two further is a realistic possibility."

To take that next step, the 2002-03 Jeffs will have to fill the leadership void left by a trio of graduated seniors shooting guard Mike Proctor and tri-captain forwards Pat Taverna and Paul Williams. While their minutes weren't huge, their leadership and experience were paramount. Proctor, Taverna and Williams helped lead the Jeffs to a school-record 79 wins over four seasons with a pair of NESCAC Championships and three straight NCAA Tournament appearances to their credit.

Ryan Faulkner '03
Senior tri-captain point guard Ryan Faulkner is Amherst's career assist leader with 363 helpers through three seasons
Fortunately, Amherst returns its entire starting five, led by senior forward Steve Zieja, a two-year tri-captain and the Jeffs' perennial go-to guy. A First-Team All-NESCAC, All-District and All-ECAC selection as a junior, Zieja is just 337 points shy of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer. He's joined by fellow senior tri-captains Pat Fitzsimons and Ryan Faulkner who, along with Zieja, could comprise the first Amherst class ever to play in four NCAA Tournaments. At 6'8", Fitzsimons is a force in the paint, leading the conference in blocked shots (2.6 bpg) and field goal percentage (66.4%), and finishing third in rebounding (9.0 rpg) en route to Second-Team All-NESCAC honors as a junior. Faulkner was second in the NESCAC in assists (5.2 apg) and became Amherst's career leader with 363 helpers through three seasons. Juniors John Donovan and Adam Harper, a pair of critical swing players, round out the starting five. Donovan was fourth in the NESCAC in free throw percentage (81.0%), while Harper led the NESCAC in steals and was named to the NCAA Tournament All-Sectional Team, thanks to a game-high 25-point outburst (on 7-for-11 shooting) at SUNY Brockport. Although the starting unit remains intact, the biggest key could be 6'7" sophomore forward Andrew Schiel, a skilled inside-outside player who averaged 8.2 points as a first-year. The Jeffs also expect big things from junior forward Tim Jones on the interior, sophomore playmakers Ray Corrigan and Russell Lee in the backcourt and a pair of deadly sharpshooters in junior John Kloepfer and sophomore Brian Preston. Junior Frank Perry's defensive prowess off the bench will also be a valuable weapon as the season progresses.

As if returning 12 quality players isn't enough, the Jeffs add a pair of stellar first-years in John Casnocha and John Bedford. Casnocha, a 6'6" forward from the University School of San Francisco, was the Division 5 Player of the Year in California. Bedford, a 6'3" native of Ridgewood, NJ, was rated one of the top-40 high school prospects in New Jersey after a standout playing career at the Lawrenceville School.

In addition to a demanding nine-game NESCAC slate, Amherst will host a pair of tournaments in 2002-03 the season-opening Ken Wright '52 Memorial Invitational and the Pioneer Valley Classic, featuring local rivals Springfield College, Western New England and Westfield State. As usual, the Jeffs will face a slew of tough non-conference foes, highlighted by a December 3 matchup against visiting Clark University, which advanced to last year's NCAA Elite Eight. The third installment of the NESCAC Postseason Championship Tournament kicks off on Saturday, February 22, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake (Amherst is 6-0 all-time in NESCAC Tournament play). Furthermore, on November 16 the Jeffs will host a preseason scrimmage against Division II power St. Anselm College, which features Steve Zieja's twin brother Mike, who averaged 16.7 points per game last season.