Despite losses, Jeffs prepare to fight for playoffs

The stretch of 10 games started out well for the Jeffs. They looked sharp against visiting Holy Cross College on Dec. 5, but ultimately dropped the game on a goal by Crusader forward Elizabeth Campbell late in the third period.

Two nights later, Amherst traveled to Hartford to take on Trinity College. Once again, the Jeffs let a close game slip out of their grasp, losing 3-2 in overtime. Amherst grabbed the third period lead with goals from Elissa Landes ’04 and tri-captain forward Danielle Williams ’03. Tri-captain goaltender Heidi Alexander ’03 could not make the lead stand up, though, allowing a goal by Kristy Hadeka. Defenseman Libby Jakes won it in overtime.

The Jeffs picked up their lone NESCAC win of the stretch the next night at Wesleyan University. Despite being nearly doubled-up by the Cardinals in the shot department, the Jeffs pulled out the 4-2 victory on the strength of a pair of Williams goals, including the game-winner. Forward Annie Grabowski ’05 opened the scoring off a feed from forward Alison White ’04 just two minutes into the game. Tri-captain defender Hilary Zwerdling ’02 sealed the deal with a late empty-net goal. Forward Tory Sereus ’04 added an assist on the first Williams goal. In goal, Alexander turned aside all but two of the 41 Wesleyan shots for her third win of the season.

Amherst had more than a month before their next game, a NESCAC contest against Hamilton College on Jan. 12. They hung tough against Hamilton, outshooting the visitors 32-28 and came back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game before falling behind by another goal. Grabowski would tie the game midway through the third but, once again, Hamilton reclaimed the lead, this time for good. The game-winner came with just 16 seconds remaining in the tilt, handing the Jeffs a loss from which they have yet to fully recover.

The Jeffs then split a pair of non-league games, losing to Southern Maine 5-0 before romping to a 4-0 win over New England College. Alexander got the win in the latter game, but K.C. Cosentino ’05 made her first appearance in net, working two periods and turning aside 12 shots.

When the Jeffs resumed their NESCAC schedule at home against Middlebury College on Jan. 18, it marked the beginning of the toughest stretch of their season. The Panthers came into Amherst and left with a 4-0 victory. For Amherst, it was a decent showing against the number one team in the nation, a team that had won 134 straight D-III games coming in. Alexander faced a barrage of 45 shots and allowed just four goals. The Jeffs managed just 13 shots on net.

The next day featured the classic Amherst-Williams matchup, except this installment in the series wasn’t so classic. The Ephs, combining a stifling forecheck with stalwart defense, kept the lackluster Jeffs in their own end almost the entire game, coming away with a 6-0 win.

On Jan. 23, Amherst beat Boston University in a 6-2 exhibition game. That weekend, Amherst traveled to Bowdoin College where they experienced perhaps their worst drubbing of the year. The second-ranked Polar Bears bombarded the Amherst net with 60 shots, 55 of which an impressive Alexander was able to keep out of the net. Of the scant seven shots mustered by the Jeffs, none dented the twine.

It didn’t get much better the next night, when Amherst visited Colby College. The White Mules pounded out five goals on 45 shots, while the Jeffs got just 15 pucks on net. The score was just 2-0 going into the third period, but the Mules added three more in the third to secure the shutout win.

Of the four consecutive shutout losses, Coach Kay Cowperthwait still managed to find positives.

“We played very well against these teams but, at this point, they’re better than we are,” said Cowperthwait. “I think we played very hard in each of the games and learned a lot from the experience of playing them, which is crucial for the program’s development.”

Amherst ended up completing the stretch of seven NESCAC games 1-6. They allowed 30 goals and scored only 10. But perhaps more alarming were the shot totals. The Jeffs allowed 41 shots per game and recorded over 19 of their own.

Despite their 3-10 NESCAC mark, Amherst still has a viable shot at the playoffs. The top seven teams in NESCAC advance to the playoffs. Five teams-Amherst, Wesleyan, Trinity, Hamilton and Connecticut College-will fight for the final three spots. Fortunately, the Jeffs have games against three of these teams. And even better is that they have played very well against all three teams earlier in the season. “The bottom five teams are all pretty evenly matched … It should be very exciting,” said Cowperthwait.

The Jeffs, however, will have to skate the stretch run without defenseman Pam Burkardt ’04. Burkardt quit the team, citing a lack of playing time and difficulties with the coaching staff. “I quit because I didn’t think the coaching provided let me improve as a player and contribute to the team,” said Burkardt.

“She decided that she had other priorities that were more important than hockey right now,” said Cowperthwait. “It’s too bad when something like that happens in the middle of the season.”

The season ultimately hinges on their success in their final three NESCAC games, two of which they play this weekend. Amherst hosts Trinity on Friday before taking on Wesleyan Saturday. “We are all pumped to beat Wesleyan again and have a another shot against Trinity-but this time we will come out with the victory,” said Williams.