Amherst Athletics Celebrates 40 Years of Women’s Participation
Issue   |   Tue, 11/15/2016 - 21:38
Katie Bergamesca '19
Michelle Morgan, the long-time women’s golf coach, moderated the panel which included members of Amherst women’s athletic teams from 1976 through 2011.

Amidst the homecoming excitement and activity this past weekend, the Friends of Amherst Athletics hosted Eras of Triumph: Celebrating 40 Years of women’s athletics at Amherst on Friday, Nov. 11 in Alumni Gymnasium. The 2016-2017 school year marks the 40th anniversary of women’s athletics at the college, and the event was organized in an effort to honor both the pioneers of the integration of women in athletics and the decorated athletes that have helped Amherst to become one of the most competitive NCAA Division III institutions in women’s sports.

Director of Athletics Don Faulstick provided the opening remarks for the event and introduced Professor of Physical Education and Athletics and former women’s golf coach Michelle Morgan who moderated the subsequent discussion amongst the panelists. The panel consisted of six Amherst female student-athlete alumnae: Helen Rassias-Miles ’78, Elizabeth Ryan Walter ’80, Andrea Savage ’86, Nicole Campbell ’00, Morgan Bayer Pohorylo ’03 and Jaclyn Daigneault ’11. Rassias-Miles was one of the key founding members and participants of the first intercollegiate competition, in which Amherst women were able to participate, in the spring of 1976. She was a member of the crew team, the first women’s sport at Amherst. Walter was a four-sport athlete and member of the first women’s field hockey, swimming, lacrosse and soccer teams.

Savage was a three-sport athlete on the field hockey, squash and lacrosse teams. She is currently the commissioner for the NESCAC. Campbell was also a multi-season athlete as she took part in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field. She also won an NCAA title in the triple jump, making her the first Amherst woman to win an NCAA Division III track and field individual championship. Pohorylo was a member of the women’s swim team and the first female swimmer from Amherst to win an NCAA Division III individual championship in swimming.

Rounding out the group as the youngest member, Daigneault captained the Amherst women’s basketball team to its first NCAA Division III championship and was named the Division III national player of the year in 2011.

Morgan asked the panelists a series of questions in an effort to condense 40 years of athletic history into one hour. It was apparent how female athletics at the college have evolved drastically in the relatively short span of 40 years. Rassias-Miles had never even played a sport before coming to Amherst. She credits her decision to try something so outside her comfort zone to the interview she had during the Amherst admissions process. She told the interviewer that she wanted to do something radically different, and then she did. It was amazing to see how our athletics program has developed so much since the year when Rassias-Miles decided to give sports a shot.

The more recent alums, Pohorylo and Daigneault, had somewhat different experiences from Rassias-Miles given that they were recruited athletes and had been active participants in athletics for most of their lives.

Despite these differences among the six former student-athletes, one common theme arose from the stories they told. All six women were grateful to the college and to the athletics department that made them feel welcomed and respected in their athletic endeavors. Furthermore, as a female student-athlete, I am thankful for the courage and tenacity these women demonstrated in paving the way for such a renowned women’s athletics program.

In her closing statement of the night, Rassias-Miles stressed the importance of having “belief in the unfathomable.” This is wisdom all student-athletes and students, not just female student-athletes, should take to heart. The six women on the panel were all prime examples of people that believed in the unfathomable and it has brought them all an incredibly amount of success. All of us in the Amherst community are thankful for their perseverance and drive, and we strive to continue their impressive legacy.