Best Moments of the 2023 JMU Sports Year

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

With 2023 concluded, it’s time to look back at one of the most memorable JMU sports years in history. The Dukes excelled across numerous sports, including football, and fans were treated to some of the biggest wins in school history. 

Here are some of the Dukes’ best moments from 2023.

WATCH | 2023: Looking Back at the Year That Was

Football defeats UVA

For the first time in 40 years, JMU football faced the University of Virginia on the gridiron. The game lived up to its potential, with both teams playing quality football for stretches. 

JMU jumped out to a 14-0 lead before UVA rebounded and led 28-17 in the second half. JMU trailed 35-24 going into a fourth-quarter rain delay. Once the weather passed, JMU emerged from the locker room and looked like one of the best Group of Five teams in the country. 

Quarterback Jordan McCloud engineered a pair of touchdown drives, leading JMU to a 36-35 win that culminated with a game-winning touchdown pass to running back Kaelon Black.

Football hosts College GameDay

2023 was a special season for JMU football, which went 11-2 and made the first bowl game in program history. Few moments were as special as when ESPN’s College GameDay came to Harrisonburg for the third time, visiting in November for JMU’s matchup with App State. 

The game, a JMU loss, was as entertaining as any JMU football game all season. Both sides nearly won the game late, but App State ultimately held on to win the thriller. Even with the loss, most JMU fans will tell you the weekend was one of the events of the year. 

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for the advertising support this season.

Women’s basketball wins Sun Belt title

Sean O’Regan’s first conference championship came in memorable fashion, with the Dukes defeating Texas State 81-50 in the league title game. Kiki Jefferson and Peyton McDaniel caught fire, scoring 52 points. McDaniel accounted for 30 of those 52, going 10-11 from the floor and 7-7 from beyond the 3-point line.

Men’s basketball upsets Michigan State

JMU men’s basketball opened its season by stunning then-No. 4 Michigan State in overtime. The Dukes, a double-digit underdog, held the Spartans to 1-20 shooting from 3-point range and made exceptional plays down the stretch to pull the upset. 

JMU still hasn’t lost this season and is ranked 19th in the latest AP Top 25.

Lacrosse stuns Maryland

One of my personal favorites, JMU lacrosse trailed Maryland 14-10 in the fourth quarter of an NCAA Tournament match. The Dukes scored five unanswered goals in the final six minutes and 30 seconds to win 15-14. 

What a win for the Dukes, who made the NCAA Quarterfinals. They’ll enter 2024 with a realistic goal of making the Final Four.

Men’s soccer defeats No. 1 UCF

The men’s soccer team took down top-ranked UCF 2-1 in its final regular season match, a key win that helped the Dukes secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. JMU won a pair of games in the NCAA Tournament as well, putting together a stellar 2023 campaign.

Honorable mentions 

Men’s basketball’s comeback win against Kent State – The Dukes followed up their huge win over Michigan State with a magical comeback at Kent State. Noah Freidel scored five points in the final five seconds to force overtime in a game that seemed over. JMU won in double overtime. What a game!

Curt Cignetti shows phone to officials – Who could forget Cignetti flashing a phone at officials in an effort to have a call overturned?

Volleyball earns NCAA at-large berth – Another stellar season for JMU volleyball ended with an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. While the Dukes fell in the opening round, making the tournament is a solid year for any mid-major program. 

Women’s soccer earns an NCAA at-large berth – The Dukes’ fall season was one for the ages, with several programs earning at-large berths into the NCAA Tournament. JMU women’s soccer is trending in a positive direction entering 2024.

Baseball’s walk-off grand slam – Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth against Georgia State on April 7, JMU baseball’s Jason Schiavone hit a walk-off grand slam to hand the Dukes a series win. The Dukes were respectable in 2023, but fell short of an NCAA Regional appearance.

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