By Mike Wendlandt
The ideal time to play your best basketball is at the very end of the season, and that’s been the story of the Amherst Falcons in 2022. At 18-6 overall and 11-1 in the CWC-East, Coach Brandon Trzebiatowski’s squad has clinched at least a share of the conference championship heading into the final week of the season after winning their final nine conference games and has received a #2 seed in their Division 3 sectional behind only Freedom.
When look at the seeding, it’s Amherst’s non-conference schedule that gave them the edge over teams like Xavier and Wrightstown to get that two seed. Of their six losses, five of which came from out of conference, the combined record of those teams is 113-21. That includes early season losses to Brillion (20-3 #1 seed in Division 3), Xavier (15-8, #3 seed in same Sectional), and Westfield (21-1, #1 seed in Division 4) among their first five games.
Their only conference loss came against Bonduel (18-4 #3 seed in Division 4) in a game that went down to the wire. The Falcons took the second matchup between the two teams a couple weeks back. The other two losses were at Laconia (18-4 #1 seed in Division 4) and an extremely close game against then-undefeated Mosinee (#1 seed in Division 2). That gauntlet of a non-conference schedule showed the Falcons what it’s going to take to win in late February and into March and they have played better and better each and every game with a convincing win over Wittenberg-Birnamwood on Friday evening to clinch the conference.
Since the calendar year 2022 started the Falcons are 10-2 with only two of those wins coming by less than ten points. And they’ve been doing this with a varsity roster of only eight players. The Falcons have battled all season losing guards Sydney Jastromski and Gracie Szymkowiak early in the year to knee injuries and then guard Sydnee Schulist to an ankle injury in late January. Without that trio the Falcons have been able to balance their rotations while continuing to run their preferred offensive and defensive systems.
Among the players on the floor for this playoff run, the Falcons are likely to rely on their senior leaders in Nicki Eiden, Hannah Wall, Alexa Shulfer, and Sydney Lehman. That quartet has started all but one game together this season and average 40 points per game as a group. Lehman leads the way with 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, both of which ranked in the top five in the conference while Wall isn’t far behind with 11.9 points and 4 rebounds. Shulfer leads the conference in three point shooting and Eiden has been a lock down defender all year.
Another player to keep an eye on as well is sophomore Scout Spadoni. The forward has emerged in recent games as a threat from all three levels on the offensive end, getting great post positioning as well as working in the midrange and even a couple three pointers in recent games. Payton Jastromski, Tatum Maves, and Lauren Bird round out the rotation and each brings something different to the team to create one symmetrical unit that is playing as well as any right now.
This is a tough bracket to play in with great teams up and down the sectional, but the Falcons are well positioned to make a run as the two seed, guaranteeing at least one home game and likely two as they move forward in Division 3.