NCAA Div. 3 basketball preview: Amherst, Smith women’s teams highly-ranked as season opens

  • Smith College’s Katelyn Pickunka, of Westhampton, goes up for a bucket against Wisconsin-Whitewater during action last winter. PHOTO BY D3PHOTOGRAPHY.COM

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/10/2022 7:40:53 PM

After an offseason to remember, both the Smith College and Amherst College women’s basketball teams have high expectations entering the 2022-23 season. The season begins for both programs this weekend.

Both schools cracked the top 10 at both the and WBCA preseason polls. Smith ranks No. 7 and No. 9 in D3hoops and WBCA, respectively, while Amherst is No. 3 in WBCA and No. 9 in Both teams made deep runs in last year’s NCAA tournament – fresh off a NEWMAC title, Smith College reached the Sweet 16 before falling to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, while Amherst cruised to the Final Four before UW-Whitewater ended their title dreams as well. 

Smith enters the 2022-23 season with a large group of returning players. Key players Katelyn Pickunka and Dashelle Gleissner both returned to Smith as graduate students to play out their final year of NCAA eligibility, and of the team’s 15 players, 13 of them are returning. 

“There's a lot of experience that we have to work with. I think the first years who are coming into the fold have a lot of talent and skill...when you're able to combine the skill with the experience… certainly our expectation right now is to be performing at a really high level,” Smith head coach Lynn Hersey said. “It's a great group to work with, and I think we're all bought into what the vision is this year.” 

Smith is often a team that works by committee, but all eyes will be on Westhampton native Pickunka. The Hampshire Regional alum was named a preseason Honorable Mention All-American by, the second Smith player ever to receive a preseason honor, and is 94 points away from joining the 1,000-point club. 

“She is one of the truest competitors that I've ever met, and she thrives in that environment. She really brings her game to another level as the competition gets better and better and better,” Hersey said on Pickunka. “To have a veteran player and someone who never fears that big moment, never fears who's guarding her or the team that’s coming into the gym – that mentality is exceptionally important.” 

Smith opens its season at home at the Tyler Tip-Off. They’ll host the University of New England on Saturday at 2 p.m. 

No seniors, no problem

While Smith will rely on its experienced returners, the Mammoths will look to their younger talent. This year, the program doesn’t have any seniors. Including this season, that phenomenon has only happened twice in head coach G.P. Gromacki’s tenure at Amherst.

“Without any seniors, we have three juniors (that) have done a really good job with their leadership roles. It's a young team, we've had a rash of injuries, so we're kind of just getting into the swing of things,” Gromacki said. “I think the excitement's there, it’s just we got to get focused on the task at hand that's coming up with the season.”

While Amherst lost a number of its top players last year including Dani Valdez and Courtney Resch, it still returns a number of uber-talented ones. Specifically, junior Reeya Patel and sophomore AnLing Vera will look to lead the charge for the Mammoths this season. 

“Our goals never change. You're trying to win a national championship. Hopefully, the people that are returning have the hunger to get back to the Final Four and go further,” Gromacki said. “That's all you can hope for as a coach.”

Amherst will host the Amherst Tip-Off Tournament to open its season, facing Springfield College on Friday at 7 p.m. in LeFrak Gym.

They might be giants

Amherst’s men’s basketball team will look to improve on last year’s 15-9 season. The Mammoths were a .500 team in conference play, and had an early exit in the NESCAC tournament in a tight four-point loss to William College in the quarterfinals. 

This year, the Mammoths have a good mix of new and returning players. One of the team’s biggest strengths will undoubtedly be its size – the height and length of the Mammoths will be a difficult obstacle for opponents to overcome. 

The men’s team is led by Marlon Sears, who is heading into his third season as head coach. Amherst will hit the road to open its season, heading down to New Haven, Conn. to face Albertus Magnus College on Saturday at 2 p.m. 

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