Women’s Lax Gunning for NCAA Spot

Amherst finished last season with an 11-5 overall record (6-3 NESCAC) and ended the year ranked No. 12 in the country. Seeded fourth in the NESCAC tournament, the Jeffs beat Tufts in the quarterfinals before suffering a gut-wrenching 8-7 overtime defeat against Colby in the semifinals.

Despite the top-15 national ranking, Jeffs missed out on the NCAA Tournament, bringing the season to an abrupt end. The NCAA snub has fueled the Jeffs during preseason workouts this past month, resulting in intense, productive practices.

Last year’s 11-5 record marked a significant improvement from the 2009 season, when the Jeffs floundered to a 6-8 record. The Jeffs hope they can take the next step this season with better chemistry on the offensive side of the ball.

They led the NESCAC in team defense last season, giving up a league-low 7.33 goals per game. This year’s defensive corps, led by co-captain Liz Foye ’11 and Claire Bennett ’12, ranks among the most cohesive and relentless units in the conference.

Foye had 19 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers as a junior, while Bennett recorded 26 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers as one of the team’s most improved players last season. Goalkeeper Lamia Harik ’12 returns to the net after ranking third in the NESCAC in save percentage (.514) last season.

Amherst struggled somewhat on the attack last year, however, scoring a conference-low 8.94 goals per game. The Jeffs are returning their two top point-scorers from last year — senior co-captain Kelley Trapp (11 goals, 31 assists) and junior Allie Horwitz (28 goals, 6 assists) — and will depend on those players to rejuvenate the offense.

Oddly enough, the Jeffs led the NESCAC in shooting percentage last season, scoring on 41.1 percent of their shots. This stat could indicate that the lack of scoring production could simply reflect a conservative, possession-oriented playing style.

The Jeffs suffered heavy losses in the midfield this offseason, but Meredith LaRose ’12 and Courtney Zitin ’12 will shoulder the extra responsibility. As a tenacious, ball-hawking defensive midfielder, LaRose ranked second in the league in caused turnovers per game (2.44) and seventh in ground balls per contest (2.31) and in the process earned First Team all-NESCAC Honors.

The Jeffs — ranked No. 17 in the current national poll — will open their season at home against No. 12 Tufts this Saturday. Amherst narrowly defeated Tufts in last year’s NESCAC quarterfinals, and so the Jeffs will have to match the intensity of the potentially vengeful Jumbos. The Jeffs went undefeated at home (7-0) last year and will look to continue this unbeaten streak on Saturday.