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Amherst College men, women prepare for NCAA Division III tournament

AMHERST — A little less than a year after losing six seniors, Amherst College women’s basketball head coach G.P. Gromacki once again has his team primed to make yet another deep NCAA tournament run.

“As a coach you always look for your team to get better,” Gromacki said. “We lost a lot from last year, graduating six seniors. We didn’t know exactly what we had until we got out there and played the games. The experience only helped us get better. It made us work harder in practice and it has helped us improve throughout the year.”

This year’s squad consists of four freshmen, three sophomores and only three seniors, making it one of the youngest teams Gromacki has coached in recent memory.

Nevertheless, the sixth-ranked Lord Jeffs amassed a 28-1 record and are in the midst of their sixth consecutive NCAA Division III tournament appearance.

The Jeffs (28-1) will host Tufts (25-2) Friday at 8 p.m. in the Sweet 16. Amherst beat Farmingdale State and the University of New England in the first two rounds, respectively. If Amherst wins, it will host the winner of Messiah (26-4) and Widener (24-5), Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve had an outstanding season,” said All-Conference senior point guard Marcia Voigt. “In the beginning, there were a lot of questions about how good we were going to be after losing that many key players. However, we’re a confident, hard-working team. We came in excited to kick off the season and I think it’s shown in what we’ve achieved so far.”

Amherst won its lone meeting this season with Tufts 54-48.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought game and a hard-fought win if we can get by them,” Voigt said. “The last time we played they were one of the highest ranked defensive teams in the nation and since then, they’ve had time to keep improving so it is definitely going to be a defensive game and it will most likely come down to who can better execute their plays.”

While the women stand a win away from a fifth consecutive Elite 8 appearance, the Amherst men have yet to play an NCAA tournament game.

The No. 2-ranked Lord Jeffs (25-2) have not played since Feb. 23, when they defeated Williams 74-73 in the NESCAC finals. Amherst received a bye through the opening round.

“I think so much of it is how you approach it mentally,” guard Willy Workman said. “Most teams had five or six days off and we had 12 or 13. Obviously, that’s something to deal with, but it depends on how you look at it. Some people might say that we will be rusty, I say that we’re getting healthy. I’m not really concerned at all about the time off.”

Since losing two-of-three games in the first week of December, Amherst has been one of the hottest teams in the country.

“We had some injuries,” Amherst head coach David Hixon said. “We weren’t playing as cohesively as we would have liked, so we sat down, talked about it, and since that point we’ve won 19 in a row.”

The Lord Jeffs host SUNY Plattsburg (20-8) at 4 p.m. Saturday in the second round.

“We know that Plattsburg is a very athletic team,” Workman said. “We also know that they’re going to pressure us very hard. At the end of the day, if we play hard and play tough and respond well to adversity, we’ll be fine.”

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