Firedogs seek to overcome Ephs for NESCAC title

The ‘Dogs return nine players from this successful squad. Key losses from last year’s team include libero Irene Lee ’03 and outside hitter Erin Dittus ’03, who finished eighth in the NESCAC in kills per game last season. Lee averaged eight digs per game, which was good for fourth in the NESCAC. Both will be difficult to replace. None of the returning players have college-level experience at the libero position. However, first-years Mikela Yarawami and Laura Golden both played the position in high school. Libero is the position that is most responsible for defense, and though Amherst will miss Lee, the ‘Dogs boast “great returning defensive players,” according to senior co-captain Jess Allen.

Allen, who is an outside hitter, will be one of the players charged with replacing Dittus on the court offensively, and off the court in a leadership role. She shares the captaincy with classmate Lauren Wong, a middle blocker who finished eighth in the NESCAC in blocks per game, averaging 1.14.

In addition to the two captains, who are the team’s sole seniors, the ‘Dogs return an array of talented athletes. Setter Annie Hoeksma ’05 had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 10.02 assists per game for fifth in the NESCAC while earning First-Team All-NESCAC honors. “[Hoeksma] will be an integral part of our success this year,” said Wong.

Middle blocker Sara Bruggeman ’06 made an impact in her first year of collegiate play, leading the team in blocks per game with 1.42 on defense and compiling a hitting percentage of .338. Outside hitter Nikki Davidson ’05 will also look to help fill Dittus’ shoes alongside outside hitters Kate Raddock ’06 and Natalie Soud ’06. In addition to these key returnees, Amherst boasts a talented first-year class of six who will vie for playing time with the upperclassmen.

The beginning of the season will truly test this Amherst squad’s ability to play as a team. They face a challenging non-conference slate beginning with Western Connecticut College on Sept. 7 and Pioneer Valley rivals Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges later in the week. “The way we play during that week will set the tone for the rest of the season,” said Allen.

The only NESCAC schools that posed a challenge to Amherst last season were Colby College, Wesleyan University and, of course, Williams. The ‘Dogs will look to burn the White Mules as well as the Cardinals, and hope to take their first bite out of the Ephs. The Firedogs take no opponent lightly-“The league as a whole has gotten stronger every year so we don’t want make any assumptions yet,” said Wong.

The ‘Dogs have always taken pride in their cohesiveness, and this newest team is no exception. “We enjoy being together on and off the court, which comes through in our play,” said Wong. The team also emphasizes teamwork. “We don’t rely on the talent of one single player,” added Allen.