Amherst women’s basketball embarked on their postseason journey on Sunday, Feb. 20, taking on No. 11 seed Colby in LeFrak Gymnasium. The Mammoths — ranked third in the NESCAC and ninth in the nation, with a nine-game winning streak to top it off — entered Sunday’s game rested and more than ready for the challenge.
The NESCAC tournament marks a return to postseason play for the first time since Covid abruptly halted the 2020 season. That year, Amherst’s run had ended during the NCAA Round of 16 for the 13th consecutive season — due not to a loss, but to a global pandemic. This year’s team sees five seniors returning from that squad, while the rest are getting their first taste of postseason action. Every Mammoth player will be seeking their first career NESCAC Championship as they try to win Amherst’s ninth conference crown, and first since 2018.
Due to Covid cancellations and the uneven number of games played by the NESCAC teams as a result, this year’s postseason tournament was expanded to include all 11 teams in the conference. The bottom six teams met in first-round games on Friday, Feb. 18, with Colby, who came into the tournament as the 11th seed, defeating sixth-seeded defending champion Bowdoin in their matchup.
Facing off against the victorious Colby two days later, Amherst began the game strong with the first points quickly put on the board by Dani Valdez ’22. Then, with one minute left in the first quarter, first-year AnLing Vera ’25 set up Valdez with an excellent pass, putting the Mammoths up 10-6 with little time left to go in the quarter, which would finish with a 12-8 Mammoth lead.
Beginning the second quarter, Amherst maintained the momentum for which they fought so hard in the first. Their work paid off, as the team got back-to-back scores after a steal and beautiful dish by Vera to Courtney Resch ’22 for an easy layup to put them up 22-15 with three minutes left in the first half. The lead only grew from there, as a 3-pointer from Gabrielle Zaffiro ’22 and a Jade DuVal ’22 free throw put the Mammoths at 26-17 going into the half.
This strong first-half showing for the Mammoths put them in a good position heading into the third quarter, where they put up 22 points with scores from multiple players including Vera, Valdez, Resch, Reeya Patel ’24, and Zaffiro. This scoring outburst, along with their patented lock-down defense, allowed the Mammoths to balloon their lead, pulling ahead 48-30 to end the third quarter.
Despite the wide margin, the Mammoths did not take their foot off the gas going into the fourth quarter, keeping the Mules scoreless for six minutes. The Mammoths reached 59 points before Mules forward Caroline Smith made a free throw to score the team’s first fourth-quarter points. Amherst would only allow four more points in the game, ending the lopsided affair with a 30-point win. The Mules returned home to Waterville with a 65-35 defeat, while the Mammoths had secured a trip to the semifinal.
Amherst boasted an impressive 17 points off turnovers in the contest, with Zaffiro leading the way with three steals to go with 16 points on six for seven from the field, including three for four from three. But Zaffiro wasn’t the only source of offense for the Mammoths: nine different players scored at least once during the contest.
Resch said of the performance, “I think we have been playing really well as a team, and that showed today against Colby … We always talk about wanting to peak in March and I think as a group we’ve done a good job prepping and are ready to do that!”
With the win, the Mammoths advance to the semifinals next Saturday, Feb. 26, at Trinity. They will face perennial powerhouse Tufts, who barely scraped by in their quarterfinal matchup, beating No. 7 Wesleyan by three points after a last-second game-tying shot by the Cardinals fell short. The Mammoths and the Jumbos will tip off at 4:30 p.m. with a spot in the NESCAC final at stake.