Perfect Amherst in Pursuit of Second Women's Basketball Title

Perfect Amherst in Pursuit of Second Women's Basketball Title

Top-Seeded Jeffs Host Main Event This Weekend

HADLEY, Mass. – Undefeated Amherst College will look to claim its second league title in the past three years this weekend when the Jeffs host the 2010 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst, Mass. Amherst will take on the Maine contingent of the conference, as Bates, Bowdoin and Colby will travel to the Pioneer Valley for a shot at this year’s crown. The Jeffs will face the Bobcats in the first semifinal on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 2:00 p.m., followed by a rivalry match between the Mules and Polar Bears at 4:00 p.m. The 2010 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship will conclude on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets for this weekend’s championship are $5 for adults and $2 for students per day. Fans unable to attend can catch all of the action live via the Internet courtesy of Amherst.

Although Amherst (25-0, 9-0 NESCAC) became the fifth team to finish the league slate undefeated, it joined the 2003-04 Bowdoin squad as the only other NESCAC team to complete the overall regular season at 24-0. That year, the Polar Bears advanced all the way to the NCAA championship before they suffered their first setback and finished 30-1. The past few seasons have been remarkable for the Jeffs. Two years ago, Amherst won its first conference championship at home and posted a 27-3 overall record. A year later, the Jeffs came up just short of their second consecutive title, falling to Bowdoin in the final by a 49-46 score, yet still managed a 29-4 record, the best in program history, along with a trip to the national semifinals. This year, Amherst is off to its best start ever and is within striking distance of eclipsing the program-best 29 victories it recorded in 2008-09. The Jeffs reached the semifinals for the third year in a row with a 57-36 victory over eighth-seeded Wesleyan, the 21st consecutive home win for Amherst. The reason behind the Jeffs’ success this season is their ability to get the job done at both ends of the court, outscoring opponents by a margin of 28.8 points with a league-leading combination of offense and defense that scores 76.7 points per game while only allowing 47.8. The defense is particularly frustrating for opponents, as it ranks among the best in the nation while limiting shooters to just a .311 percentage. Sophomore Caroline Stedman (Walpole, Mass.) heads up an impressive rotation of players for Amherst this season, as nine individuals average at least 15 minutes per game. One of three individuals to average double figures for the Jeffs, Stedman’s 12.7 points per game pace her squad and rank sixth in the NESCAC.

Looking to derail the Amherst freight train will be sixth-seeded Bates (14-11, 4-5 NESCAC). After starting the league slate 0-4, the Bobcats rebounded to finish the regular season with four wins in their last five contests - the lone loss coming in a hard-fought 72-66 setback to the Jeffs on Feb. 5 in Lewiston. Bates continued its late-season run this past Saturday with a 70-63 quarterfinal victory at Williams. While it was only a few years ago, the Bobcats last semifinal appearance in 2007 may seem like an eternity to them as they suffered first round defeats in each of the last two years. Bates used to be a staple in the NESCAC championship, reaching the title contest in four consecutive years and coming oh-so-close to its first title each time only to be denied by rival Bowdoin. Looking to rewrite tournament history for the Bobcats are the trio of senior Lauren Yanofsky (Belmont, Mass.), rookie Allie Beaulieu (Swampscott, Mass.), and sophomore Annie Burns (Topsfield, Mass.). Yanofsky leads Bates in scoring with 15.2 points (3rd NESCAC) and 6.5 rebounds (10th) per game while contributing 2.0 blocks (2nd). Beaulieu has made a strong case for the league’s Rookie of the Year award this season, as her 12.1 points are tops among first year players and 10th overall in the conference. Burns has done an impressive job controlling the offense for the Bobcats, averaging a NESCAC-best 6.0 assists per game and 2.11 assist-to-turnover ratio while recording an average 2.44 steals per appearance. The three hope to improve Bates’ slim 2-1 advantage over Amherst with a third consecutive win against the Jeffs in championship play.

It’s been a while since second-seeded Colby (22-3, 7-2 NESCAC) has reached the conference semifinals. The last time the Mules advanced out of the first round was during the inaugural NESCAC championship all the way back in 2001, falling to eventual champion Bowdoin by a 73-61 score in their lone semifinal appearance. After a string of rough seasons fighting just to make the postseason, the 2009-10 campaign has been one of the most impressive for Colby. Last year, the Mules recorded more than 10 wins for only the second time in the past six seasons with 13. This winter, Colby has 22 victories to its credit - the most since 2000-01 - and heads into this weekend with wins in 10 of its last 11 outings, the most recent a 65-57 decision over Trinity in the quarterfinals. The resurgence of the Mules can be seen firsthand in how well the offense performs, as it ranks second only to Amherst among conference foes at 74.5 points per game, nearly 12 points more per contest than a year ago. Pacing the Mules this season are senior Alison Cappelloni (Sudbury, Mass.) and sophomore Rachael Mack (Augusta, Maine), both of whom average double-figures in scoring. Cappelloni has a team-high 12.5 points with a notable perimeter game, leading the league with a .459 percent showing from beyond they arc and 56 treys this season. Mack also has impressed with her shooting, hitting .497 of her attempts (5th NESCAC) while posting 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Standing in the way of Colby’s quest for its first appearance in the final is the team that has been synonymous with the NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship over the years - fifth seed and defending conference champ Bowdoin (20-5, 5-4 NESCAC). The Polar Bears have eight out of the nine league crowns to their credit and boast an intimidating 25-1 record in tournament play - the lone loss coming against Amherst in the 2008 semifinals. While the regular season was a bit uncharacteristic for Bowdoin with a finish outside the top four in the conference standings for the first time ever, the Polar Bears proved once again that they are tough to beat come tournament time with a 65-54 overtime win at Tufts in the quarterfinals. The Polar Bears’ defense has been a trademark of their success over the years, and 2009-10 has been no different as they have allowed on average 52.3 points per game, second only to Amherst. Bowdoin and Colby split their two meetings this season, with the Polar Bears taking a 65-56, non-conference win in Waterville on Dec. 5 before the Mules responded with a 64-56 victory in the league match on Jan. 16 in Brunswick. The win was of significant importance for Colby, as it marked the first time since February of 2001 that the Mules had beaten their Maine rivals, a span of 19 games that includes two NESCAC tournament wins by the Polar Bears. Hoping to return Bowdoin to Sunday’s championship game are the senior tandem of Caitlin Hynes (Owl’s Head, Maine) and Leah Rubega (Norwich, Conn.). Hynes is seventh in the league in scoring with 12.7 points on .486 percent shooting, while Rubega averages a double-double with 10.0 points and a conference-best 10.4 rebounds per game.

Semifinals - Saturday, February 27 at Amherst

No. 6 Bates at No. 1 Amherst - 2:00 p.m.
No. 5 Bowdoin vs. No. 2 Colby - 4:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, February 28
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.