Captain-Clutch Stedman Keeps Lady Jeffs Perfect
Issue   |   Wed, 01/25/2012 - 01:24
Rob Mattson
Caroline Stedman netted her 1000th point, put up (a career-high) 31 against Kean University and scored the game winning basket against Colby with 12 seconds left. In one week.

In case (for some reason) you haven’t been following the world of Div. III women’s basketball, now would probably be a pretty good time to start. After all, with Trinity’s men’s squash team losing to Yale last weekend, the Amherst women’s basketball team may just hold the longest current streak in DIII sports (but don’t quote me on that).

To recap: after winning the program’s first-ever national championship last year, the Jeffs entered this season with a 50 home-game win streak, a 19-game win streak and the No. 1 national ranking. With a repeat-or-bust mentality, the women opened the season with eight consecutive wins, all by 20 or more, concluding the first semester’s play with a decisive 69-26 win against Springfield College.

Although the Jeffs had little time to rest after the end of the first semester (traveling to Las Vegas on Dec. 27 for the Classic) the short break did not seem to hold the Jeffs back. The next day, fresh off the plane, the Jeffs rolled over Concordia Univ. (Wisc.), 67-37 behind senior Caroline Stedman’s 17 points, five rebounds and four steals.
The next day, as the team wrapped up play in Las Vegas before breaking for the New Year, senior Lem Atanga McCormick netted 17 points en route to a 109-39 win over Worcester Polytechnic Institute, making her just the 11th player in program history to reach the 1000-point barrier.

Hoping 2012 would bring similar success as 2011, the Jeffs put their LeStreak to the test on Jan. 4 against NESCAC and Little Three rival, Wesleyan. Fourteen points from Stedman and senior Shannon Finucane powered the home team offensively, while 10 blocked shots and a successful team rebounding effort — out-rebounding the Cardinals 47-28 — earned the Jeffs their 30th consecutive victory.

The next day, the Jeffs continued their NESCAC play with another victory, this time over Conn. College, 93-42.
More than extending its home win streak to 56 games and tying a program record for consecutive wins at 31, the win showcased the team’s extraordinary depth. Of the 93 points scored, 45 came from the Jeffs’ bench. Twelve of the team’s 14 players tallied points, while five reached double digits.

The next week, the Jeffs traveled to Farmingdale State with the hopes of setting a new program record of 32 straight W’s. Trailing 7-4 early, the Jeffs quickly pulled ahead with a 10-0 run, and later in the half Stedman’s five consecutive points would give Amherst an 18 point lead entering the break.

Sixth-Woman of the Year and Rookie of the Year candidate Megan Robertson ’15 helped the Jeffs pull away in the second half, netting 12 points and seven rebounds. The 61-32 victory upped the Jeffs streak to 32 straight, a franchise record.
That Friday, the Jeffs returned to their home floor, resuming NESCAC play against Hamilton. Again, the depth of the bench proved more important than any solo effort, as 12 of Amherst’s team would earn points in the team’s 75-28 rout.
The next week, the Jeffs did something even sweeter than just up the LeStreak to 57: they got revenge.

Early last season, before hoisting the National Championship trophy, the Jeffs let one (the only one) slip away, falling to Kean Univ. 85-82 in OT. This year, Stedman & Co. would make sure the Cougars wouldn’t get the best of them again.
Kean would connect on their first two attempts, before three-pointers from Fiorentino and Finucane sparked an 11-0 run for the home side. Carrying an 11-point lead into halftime, the Jeffs never looked back, crusing to an 81-58 win. Stedman led all scorers with a career-high 31 points.

If the sign of a championship-caliber team is its ability to fight off the inevitable challenges and battles of any given season, the Jeffs recent trip to Maine provided both the tests and responses.

Having won only one game in 10 efforts on Bowdoin’s hardwood, the Jeffs battled the Polar Bears on Friday. Tied at halftime, the Jeffs would use a 20-4 run early in the second half to pull away. Caroline Stedman’s three pointer, putting her squad up 46-35, also moved her into 12th place on Amherst’s all-time scoring list with 1,002 baskets.

The Polar Bears, however, would respond, cutting the Jeffs’ lead to just one point. As the game drew to a close, the Amherst women shot six-for-six from the free-throw line to put the game away, 63-59.

Fresh off their hardest game of the season, the Jeffs headed to Colby hoping to push their win streak to 38 straight. Although the Mules entered the game unranked, they played up to the Jeffs all afternoon, nearly handing the visitors their first loss in over a year.

Trailing at half for the first time all season, the Jeffs battled back in the second, but the Mules matched their every move, increasing their lead to a game-high seven points with just four minutes remaining.

But the Jeffs wouldn’t go away. A jumper from Fiorentino cut the home side’s lead to five, before two Colby turnovers led to back-to-back layups from Robertson, leaving Amherst down 48-47 with 1:45 to play.

Junior Marcia Voigt’s layup quickly put the Jeffs up one with a little over a minute left, but Colby promptly responded, holding a 50-49 lead with 42 seconds left.

Then, as if Stedman’s week hadn’t been successful enough, her go-ahead basket with 18 seconds left would be enough to keep the streak alive.

The victory marked Coach G.P Gromaki’s 300th, and his record of 137-9 (.938) in five years as head coach is the highest current winning percentage in women’s collegiate basketball.

As the second semester starts, the Jeffs — and their streaks — will be put to the test. So you better start watching.

Amherst travels to Williams Wednesday, Jan. 25 to take on the Ephs.