The 2002 installment of the Amherst Lord Jeffs finished with a 9-7 record overall, going 5-4 in conference play. They earned the fourth seed in the NESCAC Tournament and won their opening-round playoff game against fifth-ranked Tufts University. But in the semifinal round of the postseason tournament, Amherst’s season came to an end at the hands of perennial NESCAC powerhouse Middlebury College. Middlebury would go on to defeat Bowdoin College and claim their second consecutive conference crown.
Middlebury has since graduated several key members of their championship team. The door is open to NESCAC rivals, who once could only hope to battle for second place. Head Coach Tom Carmean, in his third season at the team’s helm, thinks the Jeffs might be able to unseat the Panthers. “I’m not going to say Middlebury is a cut above,” said Carmean. “They graduated three first-team All-Americans, and now it’s a more even playing field. We’re as athletic as any team. [When we play Middlebury], it will be a close game, one way or another.”
This year’s captains, attackman Chris Condlin ’03, midfielder Matt Margolis ’03 and defender Stephan Hein ’03, echo Carmean’s enthusiasm and optimism. “We have a tremendous opportunity this year,” said Hein. “We have the talent and depth to play with anyone in our league, maybe even in the country.”
“Overall we’re faster and more skilled than the team has been for my three years and I think the prospects are really good,” said Condlin.
“We expect to win every game we play this year,” said Margolis. “This attitude is different [from] previous teams that expected to only win some games and maybe get into the NESCAC Tournament.”
Highlighting the attack this year for the Jeffs will be Alex Casertano ’05, an attackman who last year led the team in scoring in his rookie campaign. He tallied 20 goals and registered 24 assists, making him Amherst’s active leader in career assists.
The fact that Casertano racked up so many assists last year speaks both to his abilities as a playmaker and to what had been a weakness of the Jeffs: a lack of ball handlers. This year, however, Casertano will get some help setting up the Amherst attack from newcomer Kevin Boova ’06. With Boova distributing the ball, Amherst will be able to give opposing defenses different looks on offense. Casertano will also be freed up to shoot more, which should inflate his already healthy goal totals.
Also returning on offense are junior attackmen Mike Allison and Craig McBeth, who last year registered 30 and 16 points, respectively. Condlin will bring his considerable talents and his team-leading 52 career points to the starting lineup as well.
The offense will suffer without the production of midfielder Harlow Voorhees ’02, who last year led the team in goals (28) and was second in points (37). However, of the Jeffs’ top ten scorers from 2002, Voorhees is the only one who won’t be back this season.
The midfield will return several top scorers and also bring in some new faces this season. Headlining the middies is Margolis, who was fourth in scoring last year with 28 points. Also looking to put the ball in the net will be midfielder Colby Griffith ’05 who tallied 11 times last year. And look to a healthy Andrew Syfu ’05 to rack up the assists.
New for the Jeffs in the center of the field will be highly-touted rookie Andrew Wilcox ’06. At long pole, the rookie has looked solid in practice. “Wilcox has been excellent,” said Carmean. “He adds another real dynamic to the team. He’s excellent at ground balls and in transition.”
Amherst will go without the size and services of graduates David Greig ’02, Rob Scaramella ’02 and Colin Renz ’02 on defense, but should be able to keep the ball away from the goal with a host of returnees and an influx of new talent. And should opposing attackers slip past the defense, Cushing Donelan ’05 will be returning to the net for Amherst.
“I think the team is much improved from last year,” said Condlin. “I think we’re better at every position this year, except for goalie, since he is the same. The freshmen are already contributing, especially attackman Kevin Boova, long stick middie Andrew Wilcox and midfielder Sean Murray.”
“Even though we are a really young team,” said Hein, “A lot of sophomores got to play last year and have a lot of experience. The new freshmen have looked great and should see a lot of time this year. We really don’t have a weak link in any position on the field.”
“In my opinion,” said Margolis, “We are not only one of the strongest teams in the NESCAC but also in the country.”
The season and NESCAC schedule kick off today when Amherst battles Bates College on the turf at Springfield College. It will be a good test for the Jeffs, who have grown accustomed to working out in the Cage but who haven’t seen much action outdoors. Then it’s on to Florida for the Jeffs who will play non-conference games against Clarkson College, Keene State University and Trinity College over spring break.