Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Correction: A previous version of the article stated that JMU field hockey won a national title in 2004, when the Dukes won the title in 1994. We’ve updated the article. We must have confused that with JMU football’s 2004 title. There are just so many national titles it’s hard to keep up!
Between the stay-at-home orders, lost jobs and deaths, the disease has hit the country and the world hard in the last couple months. It’s also hit in smaller ways that still make an impact on our lives.
It’s temporarily taken away the sports world as we knew it. While that’s not anywhere close to the same as dying or losing your income, it’s yet another reminder of how this virus has disrupted our lives.
It stinks. One day, however, things will return to some level of normalcy. And I hope that day brings with it the return of collegiate sports, especially JMU sports.
I miss watching the Dukes.
There’s uncertainty on how the fall will look for universities, including JMU, and any changes will certainly affect athletics. I hope the season goes as planned in a safe manner, and if it does, these are a few of the events I really want to see, even if it’s only on TV or laptop.
Football’s season opener vs. Delaware on Sept. 5
The Dukes usually start with a road FBS game or sometimes a home cupcake. This year, JMU’s home opener and season opener comes against a CAA rival. The Dukes open with Danny Rocco and Delaware.
The Blue Hens sputtered to a 5-7 record in 2019, but they’re good enough to start 2020 ranked. Nolan Henderson is a dual-threat quarterback who showed flashes of brilliance last season.
He’s not the CAA’s best quarterback, but he’s one of the better options at the position. Delaware also returns its best running back, Will Knight. He nearly rushed for 1,000 yards after transferring in from Old Dominion.
On defense, the Blue Hens return experience and talent. Delaware could have one of the best CAA defenses in 2020.
Add in the third-best 2020 FCS recruiting class in the country, according to HERO Sports, and the Blue Hens look the part of a potential playoff team.
It’s rare that JMU’s football season begins with a critical FCS matchup, but this year’s does.
Football’s Sept. 19 road bout at North Carolina
The Dukes’ third game of the season comes after two fun home games against Delaware and Chattanooga. North Carolina is paying the Dukes $500,000 to come to Chapel Hill.
Last time JMU played at UNC, the Dukes won the national title later that season. While JMU lost 56-28 to UNC in 2016, the Dukes led 21-14 at one point and gained valuable experience against a good UNC squad.
This year’s North Carolina team could very well be the ACC Coastal favorite with Sam Howell at quarterback and Mack Brown at head coach.
Beating North Carolina seems unlikely, but the Dukes should be a top-10 caliber FCS team in 2020 if the season goes on. JMU should be really good along the offensive and defensive lines with a loaded group of running backs as well.
The secondary looks solid — at least at safety — and the wide receivers are talented but young. Cole Johnson and Gage Moloney are suitable quarterback replacements for Ben DiNucci. The Dukes will also be tested by FCS standards in its first two games.
The Tar Heels open the season at UCF before playing Auburn in Georgia at a neutral site. There’s a chance the Dukes could have worked out the kinks at quarterback and wide receiver by the time Sept. 19 rolls around, while the Tar Heels could overlook JMU.
Look, we don’t expect an upset, but we do really want to see the game. And the $500,000 check is important.
Volleyball’s continued growth
While this isn’t one event, we hope JMU volleyball can play this fall. The Dukes might be the most overlooked program at JMU, but the volleyball team is one of the best.
JMU has won 20 matches in five consecutive seasons, and rising sophomore Sophia Davis is a budding superstar. There’s a good blend of youth and experience returning, and the Dukes should enter the season as a CAA favorite.
Watching a match in Godwin Hall is a must for any fan of JMU sports. We’re hoping the Dukes have a chance to compete at home and ultimately compete for a CAA crown this season.
Field hockey’s return to national relevance
JMU field hockey hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament field since 2008, but the Dukes finished the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons nationally ranked. The NCAA field is only 18 teams.
Christy Morgan led the Dukes to a national title in 1994, and we’re hopeful the program can become on the best in the country again in the coming years. In the past two seasons, the Dukes have posted losing records.
In 2020, however, the Dukes return five of their seven top point scorers from 2019. Leading the way is senior Rachel Yeager, a Second Team All-CAA performer in 2019.
JMU also returns two goalkeepers who played at least 250 minutes a season ago.
Add in a handful of top-100 recruits, and the Dukes could be on the verge of national prominence. That starts with improvement in the 2020 season, which we hope happens.
Men’s soccer’s NCAA Tournament push
How will the Dukes respond to Manuel Ferriol’s departure? One of the best goal scorers in the country, Ferriol’s senior season was special.
While the Dukes lose a top scorer, they return a ton of defensive talent. Redshirt senior goalkeeper T.J. Bush is one of the better goalies in the nation. With players like senior defender Tom Judge, a 2019 First Team All-CAA performer, returning next season, the Dukes should be feared defensively.
Sophomore Dennis Mensah and Clay Obara could develop into top-tier scorers in the CAA. There’s reason for optimism that despite the loss of Ferriol, the Dukes could still be a top-25 program nationally.
We’re hopeful the program takes the field this fall. Even if the season is delayed, we want to see this team have a shot at postseason play.