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Editorial: Amherst College cultivates a winning hoop tradition

Amherst College has had a lot of time since its founding in 1821 to cultivate tradition. In the past six years it has developed a new one — that of a basketball powerhouse.

On Sunday in Atlanta, the Lord Jeffs’ Division III men’s basketball team defeated the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor by a score of 87-70.

It was the team’s 24th straight win and its third championship victory. The men also won in 2007, while losing in the finals in 2008.

The women’s basketball team, coached by G.P. Gromacki, won the title in 2011. They lost in the Final Four in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Mention Division I women’s basketball and you think of the University of Connecticut, which this week won its eighth national championship. Mention Division I men’s basketball and you think of the state of Kentucky.

Mention Division III men and women’s basketball and you must now think of Amherst.

The men were led by Division III All-Americans Aaron Toomey and Willy Workman. Toomey is a junior. Workman is a senior and team captain — and the pride and joy of his hometown of Northampton.

Workman provided much emotional lift to the team this year.

When he was asked by coach David Hixon before the season what his biggest fear was, he said it was that “the guy at the factory will get my size wrong for the championship ring.”

For the record, here are the champions’ names for the 30-2 Jeffs: Toomey, Workman, Jesse Pagliuca, Connor Gach, Allen Williamson, David Kalema, Ray Barry, Tom Killian, Connor Green, Ben Pollack, Joseph Mussachia, Alex Levine, Logan Buckner, James Sanderson, Danny Curtis and Peter Kaasila.

With all the talk of Division I schools abandoning longtime conferences in the search of the almighty dollar (yes, that includes you, UMass), it’s comforting to know that Amherst College has been a part of the New England Small College Athletic Conference for decades.

The conference is made up of 11 liberal arts schools that are natural rivals: Amherst, Williams and Tufts in Massachusetts; Bates, Bowdoin and Colby in Maine; Wesleyan, Trinity and Connecticut College in Connecticut; Middlebury in Vermont; and Hamilton in upstate New York.

We may be old-fashioned, but don’t you sometimes wish the Yankee Conference was still in existence? UMass, UConn, URI, UVM, UNH and UMaine were the founding members of that beloved conference, all of them public universities for all of New England. Amherst College’s conference retains that sense of geography and tradition.

Before anyone gets any ideas, let’s warn the Big Ten to keep its hands off this Amherst team.

With its win Sunday, the Jeffs continue to delight their fans.

Hundreds gathered on campus to watch the game on a big screen, leaping with excitement as their team took early control and held off a spirited rival.

Both the college and all the team’s admirers have much to celebrate. Go Jeffs!

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