After capturing its third NESCAC crown and first-ever National Championship last season, the women’s basketball team is entering the 2011-2012 season with one clear goal. Repeat.
Riding a 19-game win streak and 49-game home win streak into the season, the Jeffs begin their title defense as the No. 1 ranked Div. III NCAA basketball team in the nation, opening play against Norwich University this Saturday in LeFrak Gymnasium.
Leading the Jeffs this season will be preseason All-American and tri-captain Caroline Stedman ’12. Despite suffering an injury early last season, Stedman returned to the floor with huge games against Tufts and Bates, averaging 22.5 points and going five-for-five from beyond the arc against the Jumbos.
As the Jeffs surged into the NCAA tournament, Stedman again proved to be the driving force, posting 18 points in the national semifinals and 19 in the finals. Despite her injury last season, Stedman still managed to average 10.8 points per game with 15 double-digit scoring performances, while shooting 41.6 percent from the floor.
Stedman will need to live up to her pre-season honors in order to replace Jaci Daigneault ’11, who earned NCAA Div. III Player of the Year and scored the fourth-most points ever as a Jeff with 1299.
Stedman leads an impressive senior class that has scored 3,488 points before entering the season, the most by a single class in program history. Other notable returners include senior guards and tri-captains Kim Fiorentino and Shannon Finucane and center Lem Atanga McCormick ’12, who enters the season third on Amherst’s all-time blocks list with 132.
In total, the Jeffs return nine players from last year’s championship squad, while adding three sky-high first-year forwards, Savannah Holness (5’11), Uju Momah (6’0) and Megan Robertson (6’2).
The Jeffs hope to start their season with a similar dominance as last year, in which they won their first 13 games, all by at least 20 points.
After an overtime loss to Kean University in early January, the Jeffs quickly bounced back with a 9-0 run in NESCAC play, including a 35-point victory over Bowdoin in the NESCAC finals to capture their third title. Amherst then cruised through the NCAA tournament, defeating Washington University St. Louis in the finals, 64-55.
Amherst hosts the Amherst Tip-Off Tournament this weekend and will travel to Las Vegas, Nev., to participate in the D3hoops.com Classic over winter break.
The Jeffs look to avenge their OT loss to Kean University this year at home on Jan. 17, and face No. 14-ranked Bowdoin on January 20.
After a dominating 2010-2011 season Amherst enters the year as the team to beat, and as the top-ranked team in the nation they will play with a target on their back. With a repeat or bust mentality, the Jeffs will certainly be exciting to follow and support this winter.