Amherst women’s basketball opens practice, sets goal of second straight national title

  • Emma McCarthy, front left, and the Amherst College women’s basketball team opened practice Wednesday. The Mammoths are seeking a second straight national title. GAZETTE FILE

For the Gazette
Published: 11/1/2017 9:50:11 PM

AMHERST — It shouldn’t take long for the Amherst College women’s basketball team to school its incoming freshman in the winning ways that led the program to a national championship last season.

The only newcomer, Kate Sullivan of Granby, is joining her older sister Meghan on the court for the Mammoths.

“Kate has been on this journey since when Meghan was a freshman, so she knows how we run things, how we perform as team,” senior Emma McCarthy said at the team’s first practice Wednesday evening. “Now she gets to actually experience it and put on an Amherst jersey which I think is awesome.”

McCarthy and the rest of the returning players are fully indoctrinated into the team’s winning culture. Last year, the Mammoths went 33-0 on their way to a NESCAC title and the Division III national championship. It was the program’s first-ever undefeated season and second national championship.

For Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki, the 33 wins brought his career record to 458-62. His .880 winning percentage is second only to UConn’s Geno Auriemma (.882) in college basketball. In Gromacki’s 11 seasons in Amherst, his teams are 295-24 for a .924 winning percentage.

Last year’s team received their championship rings in a ceremony at halftime of the homecoming football game last week. The Mammoths intend to build on their incredible legacy.

“We’re always trying to win a national championship. No team has ever won two in a row here at Amherst so that’s one of our new goals,” Gromacki said. “We’ve got a great group, it’ll be a lot of fun, and we’re just hoping to enjoy the ride.”

If the Mammoths are to be the first Amherst team to repeat as champions, they’ll have to replace two stars. Ali and Meredith Doswell, twins from Richmond, Virginia, powered Amherst’s offense to almost 70 points per game last season. Ali is all-time leading scorer at Amherst.

“Those were two players that come along once in a lifetime so it’s pretty hard to replace them that’s for sure,” Gromacki said. “You just hope that we have players that improved and really want the limelight themselves now.”

Amherst will start the season with three new starters and a new backcourt. Madeline Eck, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard from Rye, New York, is one of the players expected to rise to the challenge. Eck was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year as the sixth man last season.

McCarthy is another returner looking to fill the shoes left by the seniors.

“They’ve left something so special for people to fill that it’s not a huge loss,” she said. “Because they’re still here with what they left behind.”

The 6-foot forward from Shelton, Connecticut, said that the Mammoths are coming in with a clean slate but hope to get the same end result.

“We’re not going at it as if we’re defending it,” McCarthy said. “We’re just going at it as a new team.”

Amherst’s first chance to extend its winning streak comes on Nov. 18 against Lyndon State College at the Amherst Tip-Off Classic Invitational Tournament.

The Mammoths’ lone regular season meeting against Tufts, the team they beat 52-29 in the national championship game, is at home on Feb. 2.

Gromacki said he would not be surprised if his team met Tufts in the postseason again, but for now he is focused on practice and Nov. 18. He’s not worried about complacency or a championship hangover because the team is aware of the talent they lost. But he said if the returners stay focused and realize it’s their time, the team will be fine.

As for McCarthy, she said her goal for the year is to “just to go out and have fun.”

“It’s my last season, I got one gas tank left,” she said. “I want to put it all out on the court, have fun and do it with people I love.”

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