Around the Nation

A pair of rivals

Amherst photo by Niahlah Hope
Amherst and Williams are both still alive and hosting in both tourneys. 
Williams athletics photo 

Forever linked together in one of the greatest college athletic rivalries, regardless of sports and regardless of classification, the men's and women's basketball programs at Amherst and Williams once again find themselves distinguished: Both schools will host NCAA Tournament games in both brackets this weekend, with each school's women's program hoping to win its way to Hope College and the Final Four next weekend, while its men are simply looking to advance past the second round.

In speaking with coaches and student-athletes from two of the nation's top institutions both on and off the hardwood, we found a deep connection between the men's and women's programs on both campuses — and two distinctive stories. 

Amherst's coaching connection

Before they became coaching colleagues under the Amherst College athletic umbrella, Lord Jeffs' men's coach David Hixon mentored women's coach GP Gromacki when the latter attended the former's youth camp. 

Then, as Gromacki grew up and became a coach himself, first at St. Lawrence and then as an assistant at Division I Temple, without fail he would dial up Hixon every year just as March Madness tipped off, partially out of superstition and also because he sought out advice.

“Every time the NCAA Tournament came, I called for a play,” Gromacki said. “He always gave me something.”

Since Gromacki's arrival at Amherst, both he and Hixon have consistently fielded contenders. We knew about Hixon for a long while prior considering all of the success experienced across his 36 seasons on the Lord Jeffs' sideline, including the Walnut and Bronze they hoisted in 2007 before finishing as national runners-up the following winter.

Before Gromacki became an instant sensation as Amherst's women's coach, Hixon remembered a clear-eyed, focused young man he thought could become a great coach, even if no one ever anticipates even the greatest of coaches going 342-50 with a national championship (2011) and four consecutive Final Fours that could climb to five should the Lord Jeffs survive the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 at home this weekend.

“He's really had a knack,” Hixon said. “He's an amazing guy. He prided himself on win camp championships. He really enjoys...

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Brian Falzarano

Brian Falzarano joined as its Around the Nation columnist in February 2011. A native of New Jersey, Brian has covered everything from high schools to the pros, but thoroughly enjoys telling the stories of small-college athletics.
Previous columnists: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon


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