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A championship season to remember for fans in Amherst

  • Amherst College students Lydia Nampeera, front, and Amira Lundy-Harris cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Amherst College students Lydia Nampeera, front, and Amira Lundy-Harris cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College alumnus Rich Kelly of Deerfield, left, Shirley Ostendarp of Sunderland and Tricia Kelly of Deerfield cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Amherst College alumnus Rich Kelly of Deerfield, left, Shirley Ostendarp of Sunderland and Tricia Kelly of Deerfield cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College fans count down the final seconds of the game during a  public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Amherst College fans count down the final seconds of the game during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst students Megan Kim, front left, and Rachael Abernethy, front center, celebrate Amherst's victory along with other fans, Sunday, during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Amherst students Megan Kim, front left, and Rachael Abernethy, front center, celebrate Amherst's victory along with other fans, Sunday, during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College forward Willy Workman of Northampton hoists the trophy after the Jeffs 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship  game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

    Amherst College forward Willy Workman of Northampton hoists the trophy after the Jeffs 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College students Lydia Nampeera, front, and Amira Lundy-Harris cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Amherst College alumnus Rich Kelly of Deerfield, left, Shirley Ostendarp of Sunderland and Tricia Kelly of Deerfield cheer for Amherst College during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Amherst College fans count down the final seconds of the game during a  public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Amherst students Megan Kim, front left, and Rachael Abernethy, front center, celebrate Amherst's victory along with other fans, Sunday, during a public viewing of the Amherst vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor NCAA Division III National Championship, Sunday, in Stirn Auditorium.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Amherst College forward Willy Workman of Northampton hoists the trophy after the Jeffs 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship  game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

AMHERST — Midway through the second half of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball national championship Sunday, with Amherst College looking to reclaim the momentum, Allen Williamson threw down a thunderous dunk that ignited the crowd. Before his feet could reach the floor, the Jeffs’ fans leaped to theirs.

The atmosphere was electric, and it soon became clear that Amherst men’s basketball would claim its second NCAA title.

But those fans, cheering as passionately as they had all season, were not at Philips Arena in Atlanta watching the game in person. Unable to make the trip to Georgia, nearly 150 people turned out to cheer on the Jeffs at a viewing party on campus sponsored by the athletic department.

The mix of local fans and students packed into Stirn Auditorium where they watched the CBS Sports Network broadcast on a big screen as Amherst cruised to an 87-70 victory over the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Though the game was being played over 1,000 miles away, those fans erupted with the same raucous enthusiasm typically seen at LeFrak Gymnasium home games with each score or defensive stop by the Jeffs. With Amherst in possession and the clock ticking away, the crowd rose to its feet to help count down the final seconds of the championship season.

“It feels awesome,” said Lydia Nampeera, an Amherst sophomore. “I’ve watched this team pretty much every game this season. We’ve just worked so hard to get here, so it’s really cool to be a part of it and watch this journey. It’s a privilege to watch them.”

For Nampeera and many of the other fans, watching the players they know on national television was a surreal, but exciting experience.

“It’s a really small college, so those are our classmates, our friends up there,” Nampeera said.

Mike Weltman and Edwin Nartowicz, who both live in Amherst, said they have been to so many Jeffs games that they’ve gotten to know many of the players’ parents. The exposure given to the town and team through the win is something to be proud of, they said.

“It’s long overdue, in terms of the appropriate amount of publicity,” Weltman said. “They’re getting, today, some measure of the credit they deserve. Amherst College, both the men’s and women’s programs, represents the best of student-athletics.”

Megan Robertson, a sophomore starter for the Jeffs women’s team, is usually on the other side of that fan support. But on Sunday, she was there to root for the men with her fellow fans.

“I think it’s great,” Robertson said. “I think with the basketball programs here, in general, we usually have a pretty strong following in the community, especially from a lot of the older fans and families. So, it’s nice to see that they’re still supportive, even if they can’t actually be at the game.”

It was the third trip to the national title game for the Amherst men, and they also won a title in 2007. The women’s team has made five straight appearances in the NCAA Division III Final Four and won a national championship in 2011.

Weltman said the stakes of the championship matchup with the Crusaders produced the intensity usually reserved for games with rival Williams College.

“The spirit, the energy, it was as good as any game I’ve attended at LeFrak,” he said.

Ann Grose, a former health educator at both Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts, has seen a lot of basketball in her 60 years living in town with her husband, Robert. She said waiting through the two-week layoff before the title game was almost too much to bear, but the victory made it all worthwhile.

“It’s so exciting,” Grose said. “We love this team, and we watched every game, so it’s wonderful.”

With the championship trophy in hand, the 2013 season is one the community of Amherst will cherish forever.

“You can’t beat it,” Nartowicz said. “It’s the way basketball ought to be played.”

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ATLANTA — What began nearly a year ago as a dream ended in giddy reality for the Amherst College men’s basketball team Sunday afternoon. The Jeffs made the most of their day on center stage at the NCAA Final Four by blitzing Mary Hardin-Baylor in an 87-70 victory before 6,284 fans at Philips Arena to claim the school’s second Division …

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