Mix of newcomers, upperclassmen guiding Amherst College women’s hockey to No. 4 national ranking

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 01-17-2023 7:31 PM

Making the jump from high school to college athletics can be an intimidating move for any student-athlete. You never really know how you’re going to stack up against older, stronger and more experienced competition, or how you’ll gel with a new coach and a new team. 

Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Sometimes it takes a year or two to figure out where you fit into the mix. But sometimes things slide into place perfectly. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it’s truly special to watch. 

This year, that something special is the women’s hockey team at Amherst College, which has quietly been working its way up the national rankings and into championship contention. The Mammoths (13-1-0) were riding a 12-game winning streak entering Tuesday’s game against Norwich, and are ranked No. 4 in the most recent NCAA Division 3 USCHO poll, though they sit No. 1 in the Pairwise rankings. 

A large piece of that success has been a first-year class that has jumped right into the mix for the Mammoths, providing the team with the kind of depth and speed that other schools haven’t been able to keep up with. 

“You always have those hopes and expectations, but you just never know. The biggest challenge is the speed of the game and the strength. It's a jump up,” Amherst head coach Jeff Matthews said. “Some [players] are ready right away, some are some take a year. So we stress that in the recruiting process... we do look to recruit speed and strength but it doesn't always transition like it has this year right away, to a person.”

The program has always been a NESCAC contender, qualifying for the league semifinals the past seven seasons in a row, and Amherst has a history of success dating back even further than that – the team won back-to-back national championships in 2009 and 2010. Matthews has coached them back to the national tournament twice, posting a winning record every season of his 10-year tenure (excluding the canceled COVID-19 season). 

This year, though, the rookies have helped take the team from good to great, and the upperclassmen are taking notice. 

“Our team's been pretty strong all the years I've been here, but our freshman class is really talented,” senior Kate Pohl said. “Once we saw that, we realized that we have something special here.”

Pohl is one of the team’s leading scorers with eight goals and five assists, second only to freshman Maeve Reynolds, a Williston graduate who has picked up 14 points (6G, 8A). While Reynolds is lighting up the goal lamp, at the other end of the ice is fellow first-year Natalie Stott, another Williston grad from Franklin who has seized the starting goalie job. Stott has secured five shutouts already this season, helped by a strong defensive core in front of her. 

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“I think other than just being really skilled players, they came in and bought into our team culture, working hard, being there, giving 100 percent effort all the time right from the start,” Pohl said on the freshman class’ strong start. “And I also think they weren't intimidated coming in as freshmen. They jumped right in and gave it their all and weren’t afraid to stand up and be leaders.” 

It’s been an unexpected but exhilarating ride for everyone on the team so far, from the seniors who are enjoying the success in their final year to the freshmen, who weren’t sure how their first college season would pan out. 

“It's kind of crazy. I didn't really know what to expect. Obviously our team culture is really great. But after the first couple games, I think we all kind of realized that we had something special here,” Stott said. “It's kind of cool getting to come in and be on a team that's so good right off the bat.”

There’s still a lot of season left to play – the Mammoths have nine games remaining on the regular season portion of their schedule – but they’re on pace to compete for another NESCAC title after winning the championship in 2020. If they can do that, they’ll punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. If any Mammoths team has had the potential to make some noise in the postseason, it’s this group.

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