Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Expectations for JMU lacrosse are sky high in 2019. The Dukes won the 2018 national championship behind a formidable attack, solid defense and great coaching. While Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe returns for her 13th season at the helm of the Dukes, four of JMU’s top-five scorers from last season all graduated. For the Dukes to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, they’ll need strong contributions from unfamiliar faces.
The Dukes enter the season as the CAA preseason favorite, and six players earned preseason All-CAA honors.
JMU’s strength in 2019 is likely to be its defense. Emma Johnson, Caroline Sdanowich and Molly Dougherty will join forces with players like Lauren Duvall, who wasn’t a preseason honoree, to make up one of the nation’s better back lines. The offense might go through a few early-season lulls, but players like Charlotte Haggerty and Maddie McDaniel should be rolling come year’s end. Hanna Haven is a proven scorer that should immediately excel.
JMU ranks fourth in two major national polls, behind a few national powers. Either pollsters expect the Dukes to contend for another Final Four berth, or the Dukes earned respect for last season’s performance.
Inside Lacrosse Poll
With so many unknowns, it might be a stretch to expect a deep NCAA Tournament run. On the other hand, JMU’s roster looks the part of a top-five team. It’s a fantastic program hoping to consistently contend for national titles. Battling expectations is going to be an important theme all season.
Players to Watch
Molly Dougherty – The redshirt sophomore goalkeeper enters the season as a budding superstar. She’s spent time playing with Team USA this offseason, which comes after her stint as the starting goalie on a national championship-winning team. With three seasons of eligibility left, Dougherty could be one of the country’s best goalkeepers for years to come. She’s an obvious player to watch.
Katie Checkosky – With the Dukes in need of scorers, keep an eye on Checkosky. A superstar in high school — she tallied 492 career points as a two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American — Checkosky came to JMU with incredible hype. After scoring seven goals and adding 12 assists in 23 games of action last year, she’s ready to take the next step.
I believe a year in Klaes-Bawcombe’s program can do wonders for a player’s confidence and growth. Checkosky’s raw talent is evident in her high school numbers. Expect Checkosky to take a step forward and develop into one of the best attackers on the Dukes.
All the freshmen – Ten of the Dukes’ 32 players are freshmen. While it’s not a staggeringly large number, JMU is breaking in several new players and could use contributions from freshmen to remain a national title contender.
Even if the freshmen don’t make major contributions, JMU wants to build one of the best lacrosse programs in the country. Keep an eye on the freshmen in 2019, as a few of them are bound to become future stars. I’ve got Mairead Durkin pegged as a future star. Her background in several sports, including gaelic football, is mind boggling. Klaes-Bawcombe also mentioned Lizzy Fox as a player to watch in the latest JMU Sports Blog Podcast.
(Rankings from Inside Lacrosse Preseason poll)
Feb 9. at No. 3 North Carolina
Feb. 13 at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Feb. 17 at UConn
Feb. 23 vs. High Point
March 1 vs. Canisius
March 6 at No. 10 Penn State
March 10 vs. Rutgers
March 16 vs. Temple
March 20 vs. No. 16 Virginia
March 24 vs. No. 2 Maryland
March 30 vs. San Diego State
April 5 at Delaware (CAA)
April 7 vs. No. 14 Towson (CAA)
April 12 at Drexel (CAA)
April 14 at Hofstra (CAA)
April 19 vs. Elon (CAA)
April 21 vs. William & Mary (CAA)
The schedule is challenging. The Dukes play six of their 17 games against nationally-ranked teams. It’s going to be nearly impossible to match last season’s 22-1 overall record. Even if this team makes a deep postseason run, there’s a reasonable chance the Dukes pick up losses in their first two games of the season.
Prior to last season’s fantastic record, the Dukes lost at least three games in each of Klaes-Bawcombe’s previous 11 seasons. While the coach is certainly coming into her own — she’s led the Dukes to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances after just two appearances in her first eight seasons — it’s a stretch to expect JMU to lose three or fewer games every season against difficult schedules.
JMU enters the 2019 with incredible hype and expectations. It’s going to take time to adjust to playing Power 5 schools as the favorite, rather than the underdog. The program is on an upward trajectory and is on the verge of building a consistent national championship contender, but this schedule is demanding, especially with so many players sliding into new roles.
It’s going to take time for JMU’s attack to gel with the loss of key contributors, but a strong defense and goalkeeper make the Dukes a formidable foe. I’m expecting a 13-4 overall record with a 6-0 mark in CAA play. Expect a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Dukes are good, but I’m not sure they’re quite at the level of Boston College, Maryland and UNC to start this season. If a few of the young attackers reach their potential, however, this team becomes a legitimate Final Four threat by year’s end. There are a lot of unknowns this season, and for that reason I see JMU bowing out in the NCAA Quarterfinals.