Maeve McNamara and Emma McCarthy of Amherst College celebrated after winning the Division III Women's Basketball Championship in Rochester, Minn., last week.
Maeve McNamara and Emma McCarthy of Amherst College celebrated after winning the Division III Women's Basketball Championship in Rochester, Minn., last week.
Carlos Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

No ESPN, no endorsement deals, no problem for Amherst College basketball champs

It might just be the country’s best basketball team you’ve never heard of.

Competing far from the national spotlight in Rochester, Minn., the Amherst College women’s basketball team won its second consecutive national championship last Saturday, defeating Bowdoin College, 65-45.

But that’s not all. The victory capped Amherst’s second straight undefeated season and extended its win streak to a remarkable 66-0.

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It’s the kind of eye-popping success that has rocketed the Division 1 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to national fame and sent the Huskies players to the WNBA.

But unlike some of those players who hope to parlay college hoops into endorsement deals or professional careers, no one on the Division 3 Amherst Mammoths is expecting to land on Wheaties boxes any time soon.

The small school is known more for rigorous academics than big-time athletics, so the team’s unstoppable march across the basketball landscape has barely registered beyond the college’s bucolic campus in the Pioneer Valley.

“Nationally, no one really knows,” said G.P. Gromacki, who has now won three national championships and made eight Final Four appearances in his 11 years as Amherst’s head coach. “We’re not on TV. It’s not a big business. ESPN isn’t doing stories on us.”

The Mammoths say they don’t mind their small-scale fame. In fact, they’re thrilled.

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“I’m not really sure any of us would be able to put this into words,” said Meghan Sullivan, a junior from Granby, who plays on the team with her sister, Kate, a freshman. “It’s your little-kid dream to win a championship at any level. And then to do it again this year is incredible.”

While they might not be gracing the cover of national magazines, the players say they are enjoying their celebrity status at their liberal arts college, home to 1,849 students.

Walking around campus with black-and-gold hats that say “national champions,” they’ve been stopped and congratulated by classmates and singled out for praise by their professors in linear algebra and Spanish literature.

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In the dining hall, the food service workers who are among the team’s biggest fans displayed on a table in the entryway a framed photo of the squad winning the championship.

“They even asked us one night what we want to choose for dinner,” said Madeline Eck, a sophomore from Rye, N.Y. The champions’ choice? Macaroni and cheese, and buffalo chicken.

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“We love buffalo chicken, as a team,” Eck said.

Playing at the Mayo Civic Center in Minnesota, Amherst defeated Thomas More College from Kentucky in the semifinals last Friday, and then rolled over Bowdoin, a traditional New England rival, for the championship.

Bowdoin, from Brunswick, Maine, had kept the game close through three quarters, but Amherst went on a 16-0 run to open the fourth quarter and outscored the Polar Bears, 23-9, in the final 10 minutes.

“We came for two wins in Minnesota, and our team wasn’t going to settle,” said Emma McCarthy, a junior from Shelton, Conn., who scored a career-high 25 points in the title game and was named MVP of the Final Four.

Afterward, the players basked in confetti, hoisted the NCAA trophy, and cut down the net. Then they said goodbye to their parents and flew back to Hartford to get ready for classes Monday.

“Back to reality,” said Sullivan, a math major with a 3.98 grade point average, who was given the “Elite 90” award in Minnesota for her excellence in basketball and academics.

When the team bus dropped the players back at Amherst’s athletic center Sunday afternoon, about 30 fans — dining hall workers, professors, president Biddy Martin, and a handful of locals who had sat behind the bench during home games at LeFrak Gymnasium — were there to greet them with pink, yellow, and red roses.

“You never really appreciate how much support you get until you walk off a bus and everyone is cheering you on, just like they were in LeFrak,” McCarthy said.

For at least the three seniors on the team, this could be the high point of their basketball careers. After graduation, even the best players typically head straight to graduate school to study medicine, law, or business, Gromacki said.

Despite having three national players of the year — in 2011, 2012, and 2017 — Gromacki said no one from the Amherst women’s team has ever gone on to play professional basketball, either in the WNBA or overseas.

“They care about their careers, and they feel if they do that for a year or two, they’re behind what they really want to do,” he said.

Still, Gromacki said it’s not too early for the team to start thinking about next season, and, yes, a third consecutive national championship.

Just don’t mention the 66-game win streak, he said, acknowledging a bit of superstition.

“We won’t talk about it,” he said. “We will talk about winning a national championship, and, hopefully, let the rest take care of itself.”