G.P. Gromacki, Amherst College two wins from another national title

  • Amherst College women’s basketball coach G.P. Gromacki talks to his team during practice in Pittsburgh in preparation for Thursday’s NCAA Division 3 semifinal against Wisconsin-Whitewater. COURTESY AMHERST ATHLETICS

  • Amherst College women’s basketball coach G.P. Gromacki talks to his team during a break in the action earlier this season. CLARUS STUDIOS INC.

Staff Writer 
Published: 3/16/2022 7:44:29 PM
Modified: 3/16/2022 7:44:17 PM

The first thing you’ll see when walking into LeFrak Gymnasium are the nearly two dozen royal purple banners covering the walls from floor to ceiling that broadcast the Amherst College women’s basketball team’s successes.

“NESCAC CHAMPIONS,” “SWEET 16,” and “FINAL FOUR” are stitched into most of them, but there are a few that have the sweetest words of all etched into the fabric – “NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.” 

At this point, success is an expectation at Amherst College. The person behind the long-standing winning culture is none other than South Deerfield native G.P. Gromacki, who’s been at the helm of the women’s program since the 2007-08 season.

Now in his 14th season, Gromacki has had an instant impact on the program from Day 1. In his very first season at Amherst, his team went 27-3 en route to their first-ever NESCAC championship and first NCAA tournament appearance. Every year he’s been the coach, the team’s won 25 games or more, and Gromacki has won three national titles with the Mammoths.

The Mammoths won their last Division 3 national championship in 2017-18, and the team will play for a chance at their fourth title on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh. Amherst (25-3) face off against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (27-4), the same team that knocked Smith College out of the tournament in overtime during the Sweet 16. The semifinal game will be broadcast on NCAA.com.

Breaking records has become the norm: Amherst has the most consecutive conference wins in NCAA history (41), the most consecutive home wins (121, besting UConn’s record of 99, second only to the Kentucky men’s team's 129) and best defensive scoring mark (allowing an average 38.8 points per game in 2017-18), to name just a few. Gromacki’s .887 winning percentage is second in the NCAA all time, second only to UConn’s Geno Auriemma. 

Ask him about the secret to his success, and he’s quick to point at the people around him, especially his players on the court. 

“That’s a pretty easy one. You recruit great student-athletes, people that care about each other as people, that love the game of basketball, and work hard,” Gromacki said on his program’s success. “They're more than basketball players, and that's what people don't get to see all the time. But we get to see that and they just have a commitment to try and win national championships. When you have that in your student-athletes, it makes it a lot easier to coach.” 

While he’s certainly had a number of incredible athletes on his squad, his coaching skill can’t be denied. Coaches can have the greatest players in the world on their team, but without direction and elite level mentoring, the team won’t go far.

Gromacki got the chance to learn from some of the very best – he was an assistant coach to Dawn Staley for two seasons (2004-06) when she was the head coach at Temple University; Staley is the longtime head coach for the women’s basketball team at South Carolina, which recently earned a No. 1 berth in the Division I NCAA tournament. When she won her first NCAA championship in 2016-17, she had replica NCAA trophies sent to every assistant coach and player she’d worked with, even before she came to South Carolina. Gromacki has one of them, and it sits proudly in his office to this day.

“I call it getting my PhD in basketball,” Gromacki said on his time with Staley. “She has so much knowledge and energy for the game. That really helped my coaching career... I thought I knew a lot until I got there. By the time I left, obviously I knew a lot more.” 

Gromacki was a good coach when he arrived at Temple, but he was a great one by the time he left. Prior to his tenure at Temple, he amassed a 143-30 record as the head coach at Division 3 St. Lawrence for six years. He spent a year at Hamilton University before coming to Amherst for a number of reasons. A South Deerfield native, he wanted to be close to home, and also knew that he could recruit nationally to get some of the best student-athletes for his program. He also knew legendary Amherst men’s basketball coach David Hixon, who started the culture of success at the school, and that factored into his decision to take the job.

“He's one of the best coaches in the country at any level, Division 1, 2 and 3. And I think if you ask the people that played for him, they would agree he was just a tremendous person for the student athletes. And he just had a lot of basketball knowledge – I used to get plays from him,” Gromacki said of Hixon. “His office was right next to mine, so I’d just walk around the door and come in and bother him… he’d always come up with something fairly quickly, and I'll be like, ‘Oh, that's a good one.’”

What makes Gromacki such a compelling coach for his athletes is the trust he has in his players. He learned from mentors like Staley and Hixon about building strong team chemistry on and off the court, but Gromacki has also shown to be a genuine and caring person on his own.

“One thing that really stands out is how much he believes that we're gonna be a good team and have success over the course of the season. From the very beginning, our goal is to win games (and) go to the Final Four,” Amherst forward Jade DuVal said. “So that puts us in the mindset that, ‘oh, that's something that we can accomplish because our coach believes in us,’ and as long as we believe in ourselves and we believe in each other, that's a place that we can be.”

If the Mammoths find a way to get past Wisconsin-Whitewater, they’ll play for a potential fourth national title on Saturday against either Trine University (Indiana) or Hope College (Mich.). Tip-off for the Div. 3 title game in Pittsburgh is 2 p.m., and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.


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