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Amherst College women’s basketball team aims to bring home second national title

Jasmine Hardy, right, and Amherst College women's basketball team will play in their fifth straight NCAA Division III Final Four Friday.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Jasmine Hardy, right, and Amherst College women's basketball team will play in their fifth straight NCAA Division III Final Four Friday. Purchase photo reprints »

For just about any other Division III program in the country, a trip to the Final Four equates to a successful season.

That’s not the case for the sixth-ranked Amherst College women’s basketball team. Not when the Lord Jeffs (30-1) have made the trip five years in a row, but have only taken home one national title.

“As a program, we’re technically one for four at the Final Four,” said Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki, who guided his team to a 2011 championship win. “We’re lucky and fortunate and we’re blessed just to get to the Final Four. Not many teams get there. But our goal is a national championship.”

With their semifinal matchup against No. 22 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater scheduled to tip off Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the DeVos Fieldhouse in Holland, Mich., the time is now for the Jeffs.

That’s especially so for the team’s three seniors—Marcia Voigt, Bridget Crowley and Jasmine Hardy. The trio, which last week passed the 2012 graduating Amherst class as the winningest in Division III women’s basketball history, is hardened by experience and motivated to bring home the program’s second championship banner.

“We’ve been working all year,” Voigt said, “kind of giving everyone the fire and trying to make them realize and kind of embrace what it really means to go to the Final Four and win a national championship. Last year we had to sit and watch another team win it, so I think we’re coming with a little extra fire. We know what it takes to win it and we want a second one.”

The Jeffs’ senior leaders have paced the team statistically this season.

Voigt leads the team in scoring at 12.7 points per game and in assists at 4.5. Crowley, whose dominating presence in the paint has helped key Amherst’s tournament run, ranks third at 10.1 points and second in rebounding (7.2) and blocks (1.5). Hardy averages 9.2 points per game and her 69 3-pointers lead the team.

All three have started every one of the Jeffs’ 31 games this season, with Hardy leading the way at 32.9 minutes per game.

Gromacki credits Amherst’s long stretch of success this season to the steady, calming presence of his three veterans.

“The biggest thing, I think, to our success this year (has been) our leadership,” he said. “These seniors finally got an opportunity and they ran with it. It’s a special group. And the best thing about them (is) they know it’s not over yet.”

While Friday’s matchup with the Warhawks (25-6) will be a test, the potential for an even more difficult challenge awaits. Should Amherst advance to the championship round on Saturday, it would play the winner of No. 1 DePauw University and No. 15 Williams College.

The Tigers (32-0) are the favorites to win the title and boast the sixth-best scoring defense in the nation at 45.1 points allowed per game. The Ephs (26-5) are the only team to have beaten the Jeffs this season, with Amherst dropping a 71-51 decision on the road on Feb. 10.

But the experienced Jeffs are still confident about their chances of securing that elusive second championship.

“I think this year our team has gotten along so well,” Crowley said. “It’s very personal, and everyone is playing for each other. ... But like it is every year, the goal is a national championship. I think we’re planning on staying focused and (we) know that we’re not done.”

Added Gromacki, “I know their end goal is win a national championship, and we’re gonna give it everything we have to get one. It’s just a lot of fun to be around these guys, and I’m glad we’re doing it for one more week.”

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