The Morning Jac: Amherst Has Become Too Good for this Epic Rivalry Game
"At 7 a.m. this morning, we started having visitors to the office," said Amherst head coach Jon Thompson. "Everybody around here recognizes full well what this game means to us."
With the Lord Jeffs, ranked No. 12 in the country, having just defeated No. 7 Middlebury for the first time since 1989, one might think that the well-wishers were lauding the first-year head man for knocking off the perennial NESCAC bully and further raising the Amherst program's stature on the national level.
With a road trip to Williams for the renewal of one of the fiercest all-sport rivalries looming on Saturday, Thompson's new friends were eyeing the future, not the recent past.
"During my contemplation about taking the job, I had two or three people here say everything's all good; we know it may take a little while," said Thompson. "But just beat Williams."
The ancient rivalry between the Ephs and Lord Jeffs will always be noteworthy, but considering the potential Amherst has shown, Saturday's game will be parochial compared to meetings past.
Not just because Williams is 1-6 and nearly a slam-dunk win for the Lord Jeffs, but due to Amherst's proximity to an NCAA tournament berth. With an 8-1 record and the three toughest remaining games -- Springfield, Wesleyan and Trinity -- at home, Thompson's relatively young team is set up for May play.
The offense has been a revelation thanks to the play of Devin Acton. A 6-foot-3, 200-pound rookie out of Lincoln-Sudbury (Mass.), Acton has emerged as a real threat since scoring the game-winner against Endicott. Defensively, the maturation of junior goalie Sam Jakimo, who had 12 saves in the 9-7 win over Middlebury, has been instrumental.
"He has been consistent and he has been stable in terms of between his ears," said Thompson of Jakimo. "He is naturally gifted, but I think one of the things I'm most proud of him is his work ethic and his mental side. He works really hard to know the scouting report and know shooter's tendencies. He's not the loudest cat in the world, but he has shown a strong work ethic and a lot of the defense has followed suit."
The rest of the Lord Jeffs will be following Jakimo to Williamstown this weekend. There will be all of the pomp and circumstance -- and maybe a Land Rover or two -- that comes with the Amherst-Williams rivalry, but Saturday will be lacking any of the drama that has been around in the past.
It will still be an important game for Amherst, and Thompson will have the excitement of participating in the clash for the first time. But, if only for this year, this rivalry has become too small for the Lord Jeffs. They'll be searching for bigger rivals in the NCAA tournament.