Amherst to Host NESCAC Semifinals and Championship Game

HADLEY, MA – The top-seeded Amherst College women's hockey team will be in search of its third conference crown in the past four years this weekend when the Lord Jeffs host the NESCAC Championship for the second-straight year. The 2010 edition of the NESCAC tournament kicks off on Saturday, Mar. 6 with the hosts taking on fifth-seeded Bowdoin at 1 p.m. before third-seeded and defending NESCAC champion Middlebury clashes with second-seeded Trinity at 4 p.m.

The 2010 NESCAC Women's Ice Hockey Championship concludes Sunday, Mar. 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets for this weekend are $5 for adults and $2 for students per day. Fans unable to make it to Amherst this weekend can follow all of the action live via a webcast courtesy of Amherst's JeffCast.

*All Amherst College students who attend hockey games this weekend will be admitted free of charge by showing a valid college ID, courtesy of the Athletic Department.
(19-2-4, 12-1-3 NESCAC) came ever-so-close to becoming the first program in championship history to win three consecutive conference titles last winter. The Jeffs rolled to an unblemished 16-0-0 NESCAC record and the number one seed for the first time ever, only to be denied in the tournament final in overtime by Middlebury, 4-3. All was not lost for the Jeffs, who went on to down the Panthers in the NCAA semifinals and win the 2009 NCAA crown - the program's first national championship - along with a school-record 24 wins.

This year, Amherst once again has the tools to put together an incredible postseason run. The Jeffs are second among league squads with an average 1.16 goals allowed per game, as the defense has been stellar at limiting shots on net. The offense is producing more goals per game this season (4.04, 1st NESCAC) than at the same time last season, outscoring opponents by nearly a 4-to-1 ratio. Amherst put its offense on display during the quarterfinals this past Saturday, setting two championship scoring records as it rolled past Colby, the only NESCAC team to beat the Jeffs this season, by a 10-1 score.

Leading the Jeffs is the tandem of junior defender Randi Zukas (Glen Head, NY) and rookie sensation Geneva Lloyd (Calgary, Alberta). Zukas has performed admirably on both defense and offense for Amherst, recording five goals and 20 assists for 25 points. Lloyd moved from defense to forward at the beginning of February and has flourished in her new role, scoring 12 of her team-leading 27 points in the past seven games with an even six goals and six assists.

Returning to the semifinals for the first time since 2007 is fifth-seeded Bowdoin (12-11-2, 8-7-1 NESCAC). The Polar Bears saw their opportunity to host a quarterfinal contest in this year's championship slip away during the regular season finale at Williams on Feb. 20, as the Ephs overcame two one-goal deficits and earned a 3-2 decision. The loss for Bowdoin meant it had to trek back to Williamstown a week later for the quarterfinals, but this time the Polar Bears returned the favor by erasing the Ephs' one-goal lead in the third with back-to-back tallies in just over a minute's time in an eventual 4-2 victory.

The Polar Bears were once a regular contender for the NESCAC title, reaching the championship game five times in a row from 2002 through 2006 and claiming the 2002 and 2004 conference crowns. A turning point for both Bowdoin and Amherst occurred during the 2007 playoffs. The Jeffs' 3-2 overtime win against the Polar Bears in the semifinals - the first win for Amherst over Bowdoin in program history - was part of a magical run to the 2007 NESCAC championship.

Since that game, Amherst is 7-0-0 against Bowdoin, including a 5-1 victory in the first round of the 2008 tourney. Looking to even the tournament series between these teams at two games each will be the trio of sophomores Shelagh Merrill and Dominique Lozzi along with first year Kayte Holtz. Merrill currently heads up the offense with 16 goals and 10 assists for 26 points, while Lozzi is one point behind with 25 on 10 goals and 15 assists. Holtz is tied with Merrill for the team points lead, as her 14 tallies pace all rookie skaters and rank among the top five overall.

Trinity (20-3-2, 11-3-2 NESCAC) is back in the conference semifinals for the second time in three years after the Bantams dispatched an upset-minded Connecticut College in the first round last Saturday, 2-1. The win was another in a remarkable season for Trinity, as it reached 20 victories for the first time in program history a week after breaking the school record for wins in the regular season finale. The second-seeded Bantams head into the weekend as arguably the hottest team in the league with wins in 17 of their last 19 games. One of Trinity's two losses during that stretch came at the hands of its semifinal opponent, Middlebury. The two teams split the season series, with Trinity earning its first-ever win over Middlebury at home on Jan. 8 in overtime, 2-1, followed by a 2-1 victory for the Panthers in Middlebury on Jan. 30.

Backstopping the Bantams throughout this season has been the impressive goaltending of Isabel Iwachiw. The senior netminder has made a strong case for consideration as NESCAC Player of the Year with a 17-3-1 record, a league-leading .951 save percentage, and a 1.22 goals-against average. Iwachiw highlights a defensive corps that is first in the conference in goals allowed at a paltry 1.12 per game. On offense, sophomore forward Celia Colman-McGaw has a NESCAC-best 17 goals, six coming on the power play, in 25 appearances. Colman-McGaw is second for the Bantams in overall scoring with 27 points.

If Trinity wants a chance at playing for the NESCAC title, it will have to get through defending champ Middlebury (16-6-3, 11-4-1 NESCAC) on Saturday afternoon. The third-seeded Panthers hold the best record in the conference tournament among all teams at 15-4 with four NESCAC championships and two runner-up finishes. Since falling to Amherst by a 3-1 score in the front end of a two-game set with the Jeffs, Middlebury has gone 9-2-3 over its past 14 games, most recently posting an 8-1 decision over Hamilton in the quarterfinals. The Panthers feature special teams that are second to none in the NESCAC this season. The power play hums along at an impressive 29.2 percent conversion rate while the penalty killers have frustrated the opposition as evident by their 89.0 percent kill rate.

Although all four of the semifinal teams are among the least penalized in the league, Middlebury is at the front of the pack with a league-low 7.5 penalty minutes per game. Junior forward Anna McNally is at the forefront of an offense that averages nearly four goals per game. The 2008 NESCAC Rookie of the Year is currently the top scorer in the conference with 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points, tallying a career-best seven power-play markers and three game-winners. Along with McNally, forward Ashley Bairos is enjoying a career year during her final season with the Panthers. Bairos has a personal-high 26 points, third among her teammates, with 13 goals and 13 assists through 23 games. Rookie defenders Madison Styrbicki and Heather Marrison have been impressive in their first campaign. Styrbicki has 18 points to Marrison's 17, as both rank in the top 10 among conference blue liners in scoring.