The Jeffs put any doubters to bed last week with convincing home wins over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), SUNY-New Paltz, Mt. Holyoke and Clark University, not that there were many that doubted a consensus number one ranked team returning every player from last year’s 32-1 record finish. Amherst outscored its opponents 390-195 in the first five games, flashing a high-powered, versatile offense complimented by a stifling, disciplined defense.
The Jeffs continued their dominance at home from last season, doubling RPI’s score in an 80-40 romp in the season opener at LeFrak Gymnasium. The game was part of the third annual Tip-off Tournament hosted in Amherst’s home arena. Senior co-captain Jaci Daigneault set the tone for the night, scoring a quarter of Amherst’s points with 20 points and 12 rebounds in a monster game. The double-double was impressive enough to eventually earn her the Tournament MVP award.
“It was the first game of my senior year, which definitely gave me a little extra fire,” Daigneault said about her big game. “We had great ball movement as a team and as a result I got some easy buckets.” Amherst controlled the whole game, jumping out to an early 13-2 lead and never slowing down.
In the second game of the Tip-off Tournament, Amherst dismantled SUNY-New Paltz, running away with a 64-39 victory. The only hint of a scare came when SUNY-New Paltz led 9-8 with well over nine minutes to play in the first half.
Needless to say, Amherst quickly dispelled any need for worry within minutes, taking a comfortable 12-point lead into halftime. That lead would only become more comfortable as the day went on.
Amherst, led by junior Caroline Stedman’s 14 points, would stretch the margin to 20 points after only a few minutes of the second half. “Each player knows where the others are on the court,” said Stedman. “We are all very comfortable playing with one another.”
Two days before Thanksgiving, Amherst matched up against Five College opponent Mt. Holyoke, clobbering the Lyons 73-23.
Mt. Holyoke’s 23 points marked the lowest total the school has ever scored in a basketball game, just barely falling short of last year’s 24-point showing against Amherst. The game displayed the Jeffs’ phenomenal three-point shooting and defense, as Amherst hit 8 of 12 three-pointers to start the game and held Holyoke to less than 13 points in each half of play. The game proved to be a full-team effort, as eight Jeffs scored seven or more points. Daigneault and sophomore guard Marcia Voigt led the way with 10 points apiece.
“The majority of the team has been playing together now for two and a half years so we have a cohesion and team chemistry that you can’t teach,” Daigneault said about the team’s hot start. “We need to focus on one game at a time, play that game like it’s the final four or NESCAC championship, so that way, we learn good habits and are ready for the big games.”
In the last game of the holiday week, Amherst played Clark University at home, routing the non-conference opponent 88-49, a familiar occurrence at LeFrak these days. The Jeffs jumped all over the Cougars early, as senior co-captain Sarah Leyman and Daigneault each accounted for six points early in the contest. Amherst built off the quick start, strolling into halftime with a 48-25 lead. Junior forward Lem Atanga McCormick played in the game after sitting out the previous three competitions with an injury. She quickly returned to form, contributing 16 points in only 15 minutes of playing time on six of nine shooting from the field.
Amherst faced its first test away from the friendly confines of LeFrak Gymnasium yesterday against Keene State. The Jeffs traveled up to New Hampshire and made quick work of the Owls, winning easily 85-44. Junior guard Shannon Finucane led the team with 21 points, 18 of which came in the first half. Daigneault also finished with 18 points on eight of 11 shooting from the field. “Our team makes each game as important as the next, and takes it one day at a time,” said Daigneault looking ahead. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves because the journey is half the fun.”
This coming weekend, the Jeffs will return home for the Amherst Classic Tournament, playing Emerson on Saturday night and either a Championship or Consolation game on Sunday afternoon.