Middlebury has been Amherst’s top rival for years, especially after the Jeffs beat the Panthers to take the NCAA Div. III Championship in 2003. That season, the Jeffs faced the Panthers twice before NCAAs and lost to them both times, so the loss on Saturday isn’t completely devastating.
The Jeffs got off to a strong start against the defending national champions, proving that Amherst deserves its spot among the nation’s elite teams. “We looked great for the first 15 minutes,” commented junior attacker Scotty Hanley. Sophomore forward Dana Kuper gave Amherst an early 1-0 lead, but Middlebury soon turned that around and led for the rest of the game.
Although the margin was close for the first 10:30, the rest of the first half saw the Panthers pound in nine more goals, stretching their lead to 12-3 at the break. A startling 5-0 Middlebury run to close the half threw Amherst off guard, and it was a deficit from which the Jeffs would not recover.
“Middlebury is the first loss of our season, which is hard, but in many respects I think it is good,” said Hanley. “We have not had to give 100 percent in our other games to win. We will definitely see Middlebury again, in NESCACs and probably in the NCAA Final Four, and I think chalking the first game up to a learning experience is the best we can do for now.”
Going up against teams like Williams, Wesleyan and Trinity Colleges and beating them all has definitely increased the Jeffs’ self-assurance, but Middlebury made sure the Jeffs didn’t become overconfident. A contest against a powerhouse like Middlebury makes clear what Amherst needs to work on, particularly defensive slides and double-teams. But when the Panthers are on a shooting spree, it’s hard to slow the game down.
The defense did its fair share against Middlebury: senior co-captain goalkeeper Liv D’Ambrosio made 15 saves trying to keep the Panthers at bay. Back on the offensive end, Kuper managed an assist and a season-high four goals. Sophomore forward Alyssa Briody notched two goals of her own, but that was all Amherst would manage, finishing the game with a 12-goal deficit.
Though their confidence was pierced by the Panthers, the Jeffs quickly put the loss behind them and rallied the following day at Wheaton College. The game started ominously as the Jeffs trailed 6-3 at the break and 8-5 well into the second stanza. But the attack sparked a comeback that left the Jeffs in front 11-8 at the end of regulation.
“During the first half of the Wheaton game, our confidence was down from the Middlebury game,” said forward Cate Smith ’05. “But after the break we really got it together and started playing our game and directing the pace.”
Kuper scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half, sparking the Jeff comeback and eventual victory. The sophomore dealt out another goal and two assists to tie the game at 8-8 with 5:50 remaining on the clock.
Junior forward Caitie Parker scored on a free-position to give the Jeffs the lead for good, as Hanley and senior attacker Ashley Harmeling tacked on a goal each to close the game ahead by three. Harmeling and Kuper notched three goals each, Hanley and Parker had two each, and rookie forward Gretchen DeLuke scored her first of the season.
Impressively, Amherst held off the Wheaton attack for more than 20 minutes to secure the win. Even more stunning was the Jeffs’ ability to put their loss to Middlebury behind them and gain a come-from-behind win the next day.
In order to reach the Middlebury contest still undefeated, Amherst beat Bates College on April 20, 13-10. The Jeffs jumped ahead from the opening whistle, with a Harmeling goal 12 seconds into play. Hanley and sophomores Lauren Dudley and Liz Wise each scored once to make the score 4-0.
The Bobcats came back to close the half at 8-5, but the second half saw Amherst score five consecutive goals to bring the score to a comfortable 13-6. In total, Harmeling netted four goals, Briody three, Wise two, Parker one and sophomore midfielder Caroline Shannon scored her first of the season in the blowout.
Amherst will try to stretch its new win streak to two games at Tufts University today at 4:30 p.m.