Sophomore sharpshooter Shannon Russell led the Jeffs in scoring as a rookie, averaging 13.8 points per game
Jeffs Look to Improve on Best Season in School History; Open Tuesday Night at Mt. Holyoke
November 26, 2001
AMHERST, MA - One year removed from the best season in school history, the Amherst College women's basketball team opens its 2001-02 campaign Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at non-league foe Mount Holyoke College. The Jeffs have plenty to look forward to, graduating only one senior from a team that set a new school-record with 23 wins and earned the squad's first postseason appearance since 1996-97.
2000-01: A LOOK BACK
Little was expected out of the 2000-2001 Amherst women's basketball team. Only five players returned from the 1999-2000 squad that finished 15-9, and Naomi Sullivan '00, the NESCAC's leading scorer, was not one of them. Against that backdrop, and with an opening-night lineup of one senior, two sophomores and two first-years, the Jeffs surprised everyone with what would prove to be the best season in the quarter-century history of the program, finishing with a school-record 23 wins and their first post-season appearance since 1996-97.
With so few players returning, the pre-season was dominated by talk of "rebuilding," talk which was quickly put to rest after the Jeffs cruised to wins in seven of their first eight games. Back-to-back blowouts of Clark University-who defeated the Jeffs en route to the NCAA Tournament in 2000-and Coast Guard in mid-December highlighted the pre-Christmas schedule for Amherst, who returned from winter break with a record of 7-2, and on the verge of becoming one of the hottest teams in New England.
Yet, as would be the story all season, there was no one secret to the Jeffs' success. First-year sharpshooting sensation Shannon Russell paced Amherst's scoring punch, but the Jeffs also dominated inside, thanks to the trio of sophomore Sarah Walker and first-years Sarah Bergman and Caitlin Farrell. The three forwards, who would finish first, second and third in the NESCAC in blocked shots, combined to average 24.6 rebounds per game, with Walker pacing the league with 11.7 caroms per contest.
The Jeff backcourt, anchored by Russell and sophomore point guard Sara Bozorg, was just as stellar, with Bozorg posting league-highs in assists (6.2) and steals (3.9) per game. Russell, who set a new school record with seven three-pointers in the 27-point pasting of Coast Guard, would be the Jeffs' most dangerous offensive weapon throughout the season, scoring in double-figures in 19 of Amherst's 28 contests, including five 20-point games.
Co-captain Charlotte Taylor '01, the team's lone senior, rounded out the Jeff lineup, and would prove to be one of the Jeffs' most clutch players, as Amherst repeatedly found itself in close games after winter break. That stretch began with the first of two games against arch-rival Williams College, where the Jeffs rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to eventually knock the Ephs off in overtime, 68-63, in Williamstown. Walker, who converted on a game-tying jumper with 11.1 seconds left in regulation, finished with a career-high 22 points to pace Amherst, who rallied in similar fashion to knock off Wesleyan University, 62-59, four days later.
After a heart-breaking loss on a buzzer-beater in their rematch with the Ephs, the Jeffs tied a school-record by rolling off 10 straight wins, beginning with a dramatic 55-49 at Middlebury College the following afternoon. The Jeffs swept through their conference schedule, taking all eight of their league games after the loss to Williams, including a sweep of Bowdoin and Colby Colleges on the final weekend of the regular season that locked up the regular-season conference title for the Jeffs. The 71-59 win over Colby, in which Russell scored a season-high 28 points to lead the Jeffs, was also the squad's school-record 21st of the season.
The Jeffs' propensity for rallying down the stretch-winning eight of the 12 games in which they trailed at halftime-showed off again in the NESCAC semifinals against Bates College, who scored the first 18 points of the game. The Jeffs closed the gap to eight, 31-23, by halftime, before taking over after the intermission.
The following night, however, the Jeffs hit their biggest roadblock of the season, falling to Bowdoin College in the NESCAC Championship game, a loss that snapped their win streak at 10. With the loss to Bowdoin, the Jeffs had to settle for the top seed in the ECAC Tournament, where they scored a season-high 84 points in a 36-point walloping of Framingham State in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the squad dropped a hard-fought contest to Colby, the eventual ECAC champions, to cap their season at 23-5, but the sour ending could not overshadow the squad's tremendous accomplishments, shattering almost every record in the books. With only one player lost to graduation, the 2000-2001 season may not long hold onto its title as the best season in school history. For now, however, there's no doubt.
2001-02: A LOOK AHEAD
Leading a deep and talented core of returning players is sophomore sharpshooter Shannon Russell, who led the Jeffs in scoring as a rookie, averaging 13.8 points per game. Russell, who set a new school record with seven three-pointers in a 71-44 pasting of Coast Guard on December 11, dialed long-distance 70 times during the 2000-2001 season, scoring in double-figures in 19 of Amherst's 28 games, including five 20-point games. A 90.2 percent free-throw shooter as a first-year, Russell gives the Jeffs the NESCAC's most accurate three-point threat, after connecting on 35.7 percent of her 196 attempts last year.
Alongside Russell, senior Co-captain Hallison Putnam will take over the point guard duties, with junior standout Sara Bozorg spending the year abroad. Putnam, who started at the point as a freshman for the Jeffs, was one of Amherst's biggest catalysts off the bench in 2000-2001, averaging eight points per game as a combo point/shooting guard. Behind Putnam, sophomores Ana Yarawamai and LaShauna Barboza, who both showed tremendous promise as first-years, will split time running the Amherst offense, giving Head Coach Billy McBride a number of different possible looks in his backcourt.
Perhaps the only real question for the Jeffs entering the season will be at the small forward spot, where McBride will have to fill the hole created by the graduation of Charlotte Taylor '01. Sophomore Marissa McGuire returns from a solid rookie campaign as one candidate for the starting job, and incoming first-year Kate Herlihy, a Glens Falls, NY native, should also vie for the position, and could create match-up headaches for Amherst's opponents, giving the Jeffs a slashing, penetrating forward with three-point range, along with Putnam and Russell, both serious threats from downtown. Junior Kelly Potanka, who returns for her second season with the Jeffs, provides yet another look for McBride as a combo guard/forward, and all three should see time at the small-forward slot during the 2001-2002 campaign.
In the post, there is nowhere near the same uncertainty for the Jeffs, who return, intact, the entire core of the dominating unit from one year ago. Junior Sarah Walker, who led the NESCAC in rebounding (11.7 per game) and blocked shots (2.5 per game), will return to the Jeffs in time for their Christmastime trip to the Bahamas, and the trio of sophomores Sarah Bergman and Caitlin Farrell and junior Brooke Diamond should be one of the most dominant frontcourt units in the league, even before Walker returns from a semester abroad. Bergman, who showed flashes of brilliance during a stellar freshman season, finished second on the Jeffs in scoring (8.8) and rebounding (7.7) per game, and added 1.6 blocked shots per contest, while Farrell, at 6'3", gave the Jeffs another shot-blocker off the bench, averaging 3.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocked shots per contest despite playing only 13 minutes per game.
All told, it doesn't seem like a team that, in all likelihood, will have four underclassmen and one senior in their opening night lineup should be in such good shape. Then again, throughout their unprecedented 23-5 campaign one year ago, the Jeffs started one senior, two sophomores and two first-years. That being the case, Amherst should be in great position to again challenge for the NESCAC crown in 2001-2002, and, for that matter, for many years to come.