Firedogs set the bar high for 2004

On Oct. 24, the Firedogs were 23-3 and ranked fifth in New England. They had not lost a match in three weeks, and their only conference loss had come at the hands of a talented Williams College squad in mid-September. The winning streak ended abruptly, however, with a pair of 3-0 losses to Williams and M.I.T. the very next day, followed by a pair of conference losses the following weekend to Bates and Colby Colleges.

Though the Firedogs ended the regular season with a win over the Bowdoin Polar Bears, they could not snap out of their late-season funk. Amherst showed courage in a 3-2 come-back win over Tufts University in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs, but the Ephs stymied the ‘Dogs again in the second round. Williams went on to win its third straight NESCAC title.

This late-season slump is sure to be on the minds of the 12 returning members of the Firedogs. Though the team loses last season’s co-captains Jess Allen ’04 and Second-Team All-NESCAC pick Lauren Wong ’04, the ‘Dogs return with a wealth of talented and more experienced athletes.

Leading the offense for the third season will be co-captain setter Annie Hoeksma ’05, a two-time First-Team All-NESCAC selection. Hoeksma averaged 9.38 assists per game in 2003.

Last season’s NESCAC Rookie of the Year, middle hitter Kristin Quinn ’07, also returns to the court. Quinn helped lead both the offense and the defense in her rookie season. Offensively, she averaged a team-high 3.03 kills per game and boasted a .420 hitting percentage, good for best in the league. Her 1.52 blocks per game led the team and was second in the conference.

Amherst returns a number of other talented and experienced players. Outside hitter and co-captain Nicole Davidson ’05 was second on the team in kills per game with 2.76 while averaging a solid 2.34 digs per game on defense. “Annie Hoeksma and Nicole Davidson have been playing with each other since high school. They set the tone for our team and will really drive our efforts this year,” said classmate Greta Anderson.

Outside hitter Liz Braemer and libero Anderson round out the class of 2005. Both should continue to contribute on and off the court.

The class of 2006 returns a talented trio. Kate Raddock ’06 will anchor the defense in the libero position, which was new last season. Raddock had 413 digs, over 100 more than anyone else on the team last season. Middle hitter Sara Bruggeman ’06 was second on the team with 1.47 blocks per game and averaged 1.44 kills per game on offense. Natalie Soud ’06 finished 2003 third on the team in kills with 1.85 per game.

The class of 2007 returns a number of talented players in addition to Quinn. Outside hitter Meghan Ingraham, middle hitter Ashley Pestotnik and liberos Mikela Yarawamai and Laura Golden will all have a year of collegiate experience to draw on. Ingraham and Pestotnik made their mark on the offense, averaging 1.73 and 1.30 kills per game, respectively. Yarawamai averaged 2.34 digs per game.

“I feel like the sophomores this year will pick it up even more now that they’ve played for a year with the team,” said Hoeksma. “I think that Laura [Golden] and Mikela [Yarawamai] are going to play a bigger part on the court this year.”

In addition, five first-years join the team, and according to Hoeksma they “are all blending in with the team well.”

With a strong cast of returning athletes and some new blood in the mix, the Firedogs are in good shape for the season-opening WNEC Invitational on Sept. 10-11. The NESCAC, however, will remain strong.

“The teams that we lost to last year-Colby, Bates and Williams-are going to be just as strong and we’re going to have to anticipate that and prepare for that,” said Hoeksma.

Williams has beaten Amherst in the past 10 meetings of the rivals. The Ephs return four All-NESCAC athletes, including 2003’s NESCAC Player of the Year Robin Young. However, according to Anderson, “[The Jeffs] will definitely be gunning for [the Ephs] this year.”

“I think one of our main goals is to beat Williams,” added Hoeksma.