Editorial: Eye-popping success of Amherst women’s basketball

  • The Amherst College women’s basketball team celebrates with the trophy after winning its second consecutive national championship with a 65-45  win over Bowdoin on Saturday in Rochester, Minnesota. COURTESY CHRIS EBERT

Published: 3/20/2018 7:41:18 PM

Amherst College long has been regarded as an academic powerhouse. Its athletic teams also are formidable, winning 11 national championships in the last 12 years.

The most remarkable accomplishment was achieved Saturday by the women’s basketball team, which completed its second straight undefeated season by winning another NCAA Division III title with a 65-45 victory over Bowdoin in Rochester, Minnesota. The Mammoths now have won an eye-popping 66 straight games and three national championships in the last eight seasons.

Defense is the hallmark of the team, and this year it set a Division III record by holding opponents to just 38.8 points per game. “We didn’t always blow teams out, and people thought we would lose a game, and every time this team stepped up and made a play,” said coach G. P. Gromacki, who has known nothing but success since he arrived at Amherst in 2007. “It’s a special team. It’s a team I’ll treasure forever.”

That’s saying something, because in his 11 seasons, the Mammoths have compiled a record of 328-24. Overall, Gromacki’s career coaching record is 491-62, and his winning percentage of .888 is now the best among all active women’s basketball coaches in Divisions I, II and III — better even than the legendary Geno Auriemma, who has won 11 national championships at the University of Connecticut.

To be sure, women’s basketball is not alone in winning multiple NCAA championships in this recent run of success by the Mammoths. The women’s ice hockey teams also won back-to-back national titles in 2009 and 2010, and the men’s basketball (2007 and 2013) and men’s tennis (2011 and 2014) squads each has a pair of championships.

Women’s hoops, though, has been most spectacular since Gromacki, 46, brought his coaching genius to the college not far from where he grew up in South Deerfield. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1993 with a degree in business administration, Gromacki might have chosen a different career with his father’s insurance and real estate business.

However, one summer in the mid-1990s, Gromacki worked at a basketball camp run by John Calipari, then the University of Massachusetts Amherst basketball coach. “It was great to watch someone who cared so much about basketball, and just had a passion for coaching,” Gromacki told ESPNBoston.com in 2012. “He was someone really good to learn from.”

Gromacki proved to be a good student of the game. He coached the women’s basketball team at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, from 1998 to 2004, where he guided the Saints to a 143-30 record and five NCAA tournaments, including a loss in the 2002 national championship game.

In 2006-07, Gromacki coached Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Gromacki’s teams at Amherst have qualified for the NCAA tournament every year and have made eight trips to the Final Four. The Mammoths have never lost more than four games in any season under Gromacki, and they set the NCAA women’s basketball record in any division for consecutive home victories by winning 121 straight games at LeFrak Gymnasium between the winters of 2009 and 2016.

“Records are made to be broken, and it’s fun to experience things like these records with a different group each year,” says Gromacki. “We get people’s best games on the road, and at home, but we just try to stay focused on our end goal and play good basketball every game.”

After the Mammoths won their third national championship Saturday night, Gromacki was praised by junior Emma McCarthy, who scored a career-high 25 points and was named the most valuable player in the Final Four. “Coach is super prepared, and he really gives us an opportunity to take the reins and come out and play.”

As long as Gromacki does that, Amherst may threaten to break the all-time women’s basketball winning streak set by UConn, which ended last year at 111 games. Check back in the winter of 2020.

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