The 2021-22 season was a successful one for the Amherst women’s basketball team, to say the least. They finished the year with a record of 25-4 and were ranked No. 4 in the country by D3Hoops.com after making both the NESCAC Tournament Final and the NCAA Tournament Final Four. But after losing a nailbiter to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Final Four, the Mammoths will look to avenge that loss this season on the way to what is hopefully yet another award-laden season.
However, that road won’t be easy: The team lost five seniors after last season, all of whom played significant minutes during the season and were key to the team’s NCAA Tournament run. Dani Valdez ’22 is a particularly impactful loss – she was named to the All-NESCAC first team by the NESCAC’s coaches, to the Region 1 first team by D3hoops.com, and an All-American by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association after the 2021-22 season.
With the graduation of those five seniors, the team’s juniors — Reeya Patel ’24, Abbey Skinner ’24, and Nicole Stanford ’24 — are now the elder states(wo)men, as there are no seniors on this year’s roster. The trio will look to lead a young group into 2022-23 both on and off the court. On the floor, guards Patel and AnLing Vera ’25 will be expected to shoulder much of the scoring load: They started on last year’s team and each notched multiple 20-point performances during last year’s run. Guard/forward Kori Barach ’25 and post player Maya Cwalina ’25 both saw time frequently off the bench last year, and will again be counted on to contribute this season as they attempt to reach their goal of yet another Final Four appearance and hopefully a national championship.
And based on their play this past weekend, those goals looked to be well within reach. In their season opener, they took down the No. 16 Springfield Pride 54-50, leading by as many as 12 on the way to their first win of 2022. Patel led the way offensively, scoring eight of her 17 points in the first quarter as the Mammoths jumped out to an early 14-4 lead. The key to that lead was ball movement — all of Amherst’s starters recorded first-quarter points — and it meant that the 10-point margin was maintained going into quarter number two. That frame was no different than the first, with Patel pouring in eight more points, including a buzzer-beating three as time expired, to pace the Mammoths to a 32-23 halftime lead.
However, Springfield is nationally ranked for a reason, and they would not go away quietly. After the Mammoths missed their first five shots of the second half, the Pride went on a 6-0 run to open the half and narrow the Amherst lead to three. A three-pointer by Sylvia Liddle ’26 ended the run, and Skinner scored five points of her own during the Mammoths’ next scoring run — they hit four of six shots to stretch the margin back to 43-33 heading into the final quarter.
And again, the Pride opened the quarter with a run, this time 7-0, to reduce the lead to three. A Vera three-pointer ended that run, and Barach hit one of her own to widen the lead, but the Pride got within three two more times. First-year Anna Tranham ’26 stopped the Pride’s comeback attempt with a clutch three-pointer, and Vera and Patel both hit free throws down the stretch to secure the Mammoths’ first win of the season.
Sunday was much of the same for the Mammoths, who picked up win number two on the season 57-50 against Rowan College. However, unlike their game 48 hours earlier, this one started as a defensive battle, with neither team scoring until almost halfway through the first quarter, when Rowan made a layup. After that, the teams again went stagnant offensively, with Amherst’s only points coming from a Tranham free throw — their first field goal of the game didn’t come until Vera hit a three with 2:09 to go in the quarter. From there, though, both teams found their stride, as they combined for 10 total field goals in the last two minutes of the period. Amherst took a slim four-point lead after one quarter of play.
Unlike the first quarter, the second started with the Mammoths catching fire offensively, and a Liddle three-pointer stretched the Mammoths’ lead to nine with 6:17 to go in the half. But Rowan fought their way back into the game, narrowing the lead to three before a 12-3 Amherst run, with every player on the court recording a bucket, brought the advantage to 12 heading into the break, 32-20. However, a strong third quarter from the Profs got them back into the game — they outscored the home squad by 10 during the frame. While the Mammoths started the quarter matching Rowan shot-for-shot, the Profs went on a 7-0 run to close the third, shrinking the lead to just two (42-20) heading into a decisive final quarter.
But despite the Profs tying the game early in the final quarter and taking a five-point lead with five minutes to play, the Mammoths fought their way to the finish. While two minutes of back-and-forth play followed, Amherst took the lead for good at 51-50 on a Cwalina free throw with 3:39 to go. Patel extended the lead to three with a layup 30 seconds later, and the team saw out the game at the free throw line to win their second game of the season 57-50. Barach was the star for the Mammoths on the day, with 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals in an impressive all-around performance. Vera also added 17 points in the victory.
Speaking about the tip-off tournament, Patel said, “It felt so good to be back on the court this year … We were so happy to see LeFrak packed for our season opener against Springfield. The energy really helped fuel us throughout the game. We were happy with the wins, but we know we have a lot to work on and focus on as the season goes along. I am excited to see what else we can do this season with the group we have!”
The Mammoths return to action for their first road game of the season, and their last game before Thanksgiving break, at Gordon College on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m.