After advancing to the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Amherst men’s basketball team hit the practice courts with a vengeance over the summer and fall in order to further improve on the impressive accomplishments of the 2010-11 squad.
Last year, the Jeffs came out of the gates playing solid basketball and only got better along the way en route to a 21-game winning streak to open the season. Amherst finished the season at 25-4, with a pair of those losses coming against Middlebury.
Many factors contributed to the early and consistent success that the Jeffs enjoyed, but co-captain and starting point guard Conor Meehan ’11 proved to be the engine that made the team go.
Meehan’s enormous contributions will be hard to replace, as his 360 assists rank third on Amherst’s all-time list. In addition, he was named to First Team All-Conference and First Team All-American for his consistent scoring and playmaking.
Meehan and his fellow co-captain Kurt Bennett ’11 combined to provide strong leadership for an Amherst squad that was looking to bounce back from a down season in 2009-10. The influx of talented first-years from last year’s team, including NESCAC Rookie of the Year Aaron Toomey ’14, should continue to mature and help the Jeffs even more this year as sophomores.
Toomey is primed to take the reins as the Jeffs’ point guard, looking to build on a fantastic rookie campaign in which he missed the single season Amherst first-year scoring record by a single point.
He combined with Meehan last season as the team’s biggest scoring threat, and will try to continue that trend this year with the efficiency that made him a two-time NESCAC Player of the Week last year.
Aside from Toomey, who was the spark off the bench last season, the Jeffs return all of their starters besides Meehan. Taylor Barrise ’12, the team’s sharpshooter, can catch fire at any time and make opposing defenses pay dearly for leaving him open.
Wings Willy Workman ’13 and David Waller ’12 bring more scoring options to the table, and center Pete Kaasila ’13 will likely play an even greater role in the offense than he did last year. Kaasila exhibited huge improvements in many facets of the game last season and cracked double digits in his points per game average, and his development should only progress further this year.
The main contributors off the bench last year, in addition to Toomey, were Allen Williamson ’13 and Jeff Holmes ’12. Holmes adds another presence in the post for Amherst, while Williamson’s athleticism and explosiveness can turn any play into a highlight reel.
With all this firepower coming back from last year’s squad, the Jeffs are primed for another winning season and a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
Despite losing Meehan and Bennett, this year’s team boasts five seniors that should be able to step into their leadership roles and fill the shoes of last year’s captains. An exciting group of first years will also add to the talent pool, as rookies Ray Barry, Joseph Musacchia, Alex Levine, Max Lippe and Gene Garay join the team.
After losing to Middlebury in the NESCAC Championship and then falling to archrival Williams in the NCAA Tournament, this new and matured version of Amherst basketball will look to dominate all of their NESCAC opponents along with any other teams standing in the way of their ultimate goal, a national championship.