Several key elements came together to propel Amherst to an unblemished record. Aggressive hitting, relentless defense, an invigorated mindset and general cohesion all combined to give Amherst a commanding lead throughout the tournament.
“We all played extremely well together this weekend,” said setter Annie Hoeksma ’05. “It all came together and everyone was playing where they were supposed to and giving everything they had.”
Coming off of a disappointing loss to rival Williams College the previous weekend, the team made important mental adjustments that proved vital to victory. According to Hoeksma, the loss to Williams “had a lot to do with our mentality, I think.” She added, “We played tentatively against Williams and made a lot of our own mistakes … With the games this weekend we had the right mentality.”
This aggressive mentality was integral to the team’s success at the net. As a team, Amherst posted 160 kills and 34 blocks over the course of the weekend. Also important was the degree to which Hoeksma was able to vary the attack.
While some teams have only two or three hitters capable of hitting the ball from the outside or middle, Amherst mixed up its offense by often turning to the traditionally “weak” right side of the court. Because many teams are unaccustomed to setting a block against a right side attack, this strategy proved particularly effective. As they have been doing all season, both co-captain Lauren Wong ’04 and Natalie Soud ’06 were especially dominant as offside hitters in this weekend’s victories.
However, as is often the case, the root of a successful offense is a strong and consistent defense. The Firedogs relied heavily on accurate passing from backcourt players Kate Raddock ’06, Mikela Yarawamai ’07 and co-captain Jessica Allen ’04 to propel the offense.
“Because our serve-receive was so consistent, we were able to run more complex plays off the very first pass,” said Wong. “This allowed us to get a kill right away without giving the other team a scoring opportunity.”
The first game of the tournament on Friday afternoon against Trinity proved to have the closest matches of the weekend (30-23, 30-27, 30-20). Amherst sealed the win with impressive net play, tallying 50 kills and 11 blocks as a team. Kristin Quinn ’07 led with 15 kills, while Nikki Davidson ’05 added 12 and Wong assisted with seven blocks.
Cheered on by a large and enthusiastic crowd, the Firedogs took to the court again that evening to beat Eastern Connecticut (30-20, 30-20, 30-14) resoundingly. Imposing net play contributed to the win, as did aces from Hoeksma, Allen and Yarawamai, each posting four.
In Saturday’s game versus Middlebury, nine Firedogs added kills as Amherst defeated the Panthers (30-14, 30-11, 30-26). Davidson played an especially impressive match, contributing ten kills and eight aces. The final match of the weekend against Wesleyan began slowly, but the ‘Dogs prevailed (30-27, 30-17, 30-18).
Though this weekend’s victory represented a total team effort, the standout performances of a few Firedogs deserve special distinction. In only 12 games, Hoeksma added a remarkable 123 assists. Quinn led the team this weekend with 42 kills and Davidson was not far behind with 38.
Though Amherst played several NESCAC opponents, the results of this past weekend will not factor into post-season standings. However, the experience will benefit Amherst in the upcoming weeks. Next weekend the team travels to Wesleyan to compete in another weekend of non-conference play against NESCAC opponents. On Friday, Amherst takes on Springfield and Smith Colleges. Saturday brings both Trinity and Wesleyan.