With 2018 coming to a close, so does another chapter in James Madison Athletics. A year that commenced with a national championship loss in football, kicked off summer with a national championship win in lacrosse and ended with JMU men’s basketball’s fourth loss in as many games, 2018 was one that, overall, was another year of sustained success.
JMU’s 12 team programs boasted a 66.3 win percentage with nine programs producing winning seasons. Let’s narrow in the focus and see how each sport fared over the last 12 months.
JMU baseball: 26-26 (11-13 CAA)
It was the second year in a row where head coach Marlin Ikenberry began his season with a bang before fizzling out as the year went on. The Dukes jumped out to a 10-5 start in the early portion of their non-conference schedule, but went 2-7 over their first three CAA series before finishing the season on a five-game win streak to end the year at .500.
James Madison failed to have an athlete make the First or Second Team All-CAA, but two players — now-graduated outfielder Adam Sisk and junior second baseman Fox Semones — were selected to the third team. It was, however, a bright look into the future, as freshmen shortstop Josh Jones and pitcher Nick Stewart were named to the CAA All-Rookie team.
The Dukes were middle of the pack all around and ranked either fifth or six in the CAA in batting average, runs scored, home runs, RBIs, ERA, saves and strikeouts — a clear marker for their .500 record. It was, however, their first non-losing campaign since 2011 and most wins since the 2013 JMU team went 25-30. If JMU can take some of its average rankings and improve on them in the spring of 2019, the Dukes may be in reach of their first winning season in eight years.
JMU men’s basketball: 13-20 (6-13 CAA)
For head coach Louis Rowe, his JMU team finished last year’s campaign with a 6-12 mark after Jan. 1 and is 7-8 so far this season. The Dukes are in prime position to finish with more than 10 wins, eclipsing both of Rowe’s win totals in 2016 and 2017.
As with baseball, men’s basketball failed to place any members on the First or Second Team All-CAA at the conclusion of the 2017-18. Then-redshirt junior guard Stuckey Mosley was named to Third Team All-CAA, and then-freshmen guards Darius Banks and Matt Lewis were placed on the CAA All-Rookie Team. To begin the 2018-19 season, JMU was picked to finish sixth in the conference, Mosley was named to the CAA Preseason Second Team All-CAA and Lewis was an honorable mention.
While the Dukes are poised for their best season in the Rowe era, they still have the same major flaw that they had in the 18 games between Jan. 2 and March 3: shooting. JMU is shooting 42.8 percent from the field this season, worst in the CAA, after hitting only 41.7 percent of their shots in the 2018 games from last season. The Dukes have plenty of playmakers capable of knocking down shots, but finding a steady rhythm could bring even more success than the Dukes are projected to have.
JMU women’s basketball: 25-7 (14-2 CAA)
Sean O’Regan’s continued success at the helm of women’s basketball hiccuped in the conference tournament last season, where the Dukes were knocked off by eventual champion Elon after being tabbed preseason favorites. Since then, James Madison is 8-3 and just days away from conference play.
This year JMU was picked as the preseason favorite, coupled with junior guard Kamiah Smalls named the CAA Preseason Player of the Year. The Dukes returned all five starters, but dismissed redshirt junior forward Kelly Koshuta and added in key transfers like redshirt junior guard Jackie Benitez. In 11 games this season the Dukes are hitting on all cylinders. They defend well — holding opponents to the CAA’s second-best mark of 54 points per game — they rebound well — with the second-highest average of 42.5 rebounds per game — and they’re effective from the charity stripe — knocking down 74.3 percent of free throws.
The biggest misfiring with the Dukes last season, and one that’s been improved since then, is beyond the arc. After shooting 28.6 percent from three in the 21 games after New Years last season, they’re up to 36.9 percent — third-best in the CAA. Their one fault this season is in turnover differential, where they sit at -1.20 and turn the ball over 14.6 times a game. If the Dukes can keep hitting shots from long distance and secure the rock, there’s no reason to expect anything less than a conference title in 2019.
JMU cross country
After placing first at the CAA Championships and the ECAC Championships in 2017, the 2018 season for head coach Dave Rinker and his team could be viewed as a letdown. This time around, JMU finished fifth out of nine teams in the CAA Championships and ninth out of 18 teams at the ECAC Championship.
The season began on a high note for the Dukes after winning the JMU Invitational behind the legs of senior Erica Jackson, who earned CAA Runner of the Week. As a team it was downhill from there, placing 35th out of 41 teams at the Paul Short Invitational and 27th out of 28 teams at the Penn State Open. Jackson was the lone Duke to make the All-CAA Team.
JMU field hockey 6-12 (2-4 CAA)
James Madison field hockey had its worst season since 2004 — 10 years before head coach Christy Morgan was hired for her second stint at the helm — and its first season with a losing record since 2011.
JMU had a tough slate of non-conference games, as the Dukes faced six different top-25 opponents in the 2018 season — going winless in those games. Injuries didn’t help either; as senior forward and Preseason All-CAA selection Miranda Rigg played in only five games before redshirting the season and senior forward/midfielder Ashley Gippe was lost for the season after an injury in late September.
Two Dukes were named to the First Team All-CAA in senior midfielder/defender Corey Mayer and sophomore midfielder Rachel Yeager, and freshmen midfielders Elfi de Rooij and Kara McClure were named to the CAA All-Rookie Team. With Rigg set to return and the young midfielders continuing to grow, JMU will look to avoid the second losing season of Morgan’s head-coaching tenure.
JMU football: 9-5 (6-2 CAA)
Much unlike the beginning of the 2017 season, 2018 kicked off for JMU football with its 17-13 loss in the FCS National Championship to North Dakota State and ending with a last-second loss to Colgate in the FCS second round. The JMU offense rarely found consistency, struggled to run the ball effectively and was turnover-prone, which dismantled the Dukes in their losses to Elon, New Hampshire and Colgate.
It was the worst year of the Mike Houston era, and the last at that as well. After he departed for East Carolina and a hefty pay-raise, JMU began a new chapter and hired Elon’s head coach Curt Cignetti for the same position. In the few weeks since arriving at James Madison, Cignetti has signed eight recruits of the 2019 class and filled out the majority of his staff.
It wasn’t all bad for JMU, as several players turned out career years. Redshirt senior cornerback Jimmy Moreland won CAA Defensive Player of the Year, and Moreland, redshirt sophomore D’Angelo Amos, redshirt junior Ron’Dell Carter, junior Adam Smith and redshirt senior Robert Carter Jr. earned All-CAA First Team honors. The Dukes return 20 of 22 starters, and with an offensive-minded staff at the head of the 2019 team, JMU football should be poised to return to its 2016 and 2017 form.
JMU men’s golf finished last spring with a fourth-place finish at the CAA Championships, and senior Matt Cowgill and freshman Nach Montero were named Second Team All-CAA. This fall, the Dukes took first place in the River Run Collegiate after erasing a five-stroke deficit on the final day. In all four meets this season, the men’s team never finished below fifth place.
For head coach Tommy Baker and JMU women’s golf, their season last year ended with a disappointing seventh-place finish out of eight teams in the CAA Championships but started on a bright note with a third-place outing at the William & Mary Invitational. Since then, the team hasn’t placed higher than sixth, but junior Morgan Cox had a career-best finish at the Idle Hour Collegiate and earned CAA Golfer of the Week for her 8-over par performance.
JMU lacrosse: 22-1 (6-0 CAA)
The most successful team in the 2018 calendar year for the Dukes was headed by coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe and JMU lacrosse. The Division-I national champion, JMU had one loss on the year in late March and never faltered again — breezing through the CAA and NCAA tournaments. The Dukes were prolific on offense, leading the CAA in goals per game with 15.74, points per game with 22.52 and assists per game with 6.78.
The Dukes took home the regular-season awards for player of the year (Kristen Gaudian), co-defensive player of the year (Haley Warden) and coach of the year (Klaes-Bawcombe). Five players were named First Team All-CAA, three to Second Team All-CAA and two to the All-Rookie team.
The Dukes began the fall season in the Fall Classic, nearly upsetting the U.S. Women’s National Team. Looking to 2019, the Dukes had four players — senior defender Caroline Sdanowich, senior attacker Hanna Haven, sophomore midfielder Charlotte Haggerty and junior defender Emma Johnson — who were named Inside Lacrosse Women’s Division I Preseason Media All-Americans. Despite graduating nine seniors and five of their top six scorers, the Dukes appear to have reloaded for the chance at another title run.
JMU men’s soccer: 15-5-3 (6-2-0)
The surprise team of the year was men’s soccer, as first-year head coach Paul Zazenski led the Dukes to their most successful season in program history. Winning the regular-season and tournament conference championships, JMU made it all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals by rattling off three tournament road wins.
Zazenski was named CAA and ECAC Coach of the Year, and also received a five-year contract extension. Graduate student forward/midfielder Yannick Franz and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper TJ Bush were named First Team All-CAA, and six other Dukes made the second and third teams.
The Dukes were a balanced unit, having the second-best scoring offense (1.739 goals per game) and the most shutouts (13) in the CAA. With Zazenski retained and just six players graduating, JMU men’s soccer may be the best team in athletics come 2019.
JMU women’s soccer: 11-8-1 (7-1-1)
It was a season of two halves for women’s soccer, as the Dukes were able to take home the regular-season CAA championship despite starting the year 1-6. First-year head coach Joshua Walters made a change in his team’s structure, switching to a 3-4-3 lineup that featured three freshmen on the backline, and the Dukes rattled off a 9-1-1 showing to close out the regular season. James Madison would fall to Hofstra in the CAA Finals, but nonetheless it was a positive turnaround for a team that went 9-10 a year ago.
JMU’s defense gave up two goals a game through the first seven contests, but only allowed two goals on three occasions in the final 11. The Dukes’ offense also spiked after the formation change, averaging two goals a game in the final 10 games. By the end of the year, JMU owned the third-best scoring offense and the fourth-best scoring defense.
Just like Zazenski and the men, Walters was awarded CAA Coach of the Year and junior forward Haley Crawford and sophomore midfielder Ginger Deel earned First Team All-CAA accolades. Women’s soccer also graduates six seniors, and will look to have a full year’s worth of play next year much like its closing half in 2018.
JMU softball: 43-14 (19-2 CAA)
Despite a new head coach and the absence of its best player, JMU softball broke the 40-win mark for the sixth year in a row. It was a step back from the 52-8 year in 2017, and actually the lowest win total since 2013, but given the Dukes were without 2017 Shutt Sports/NFCA Division I National Player of the Year in senior pitcher/infielder Megan Good, it wasn’t nearly the dropoff the team could’ve experienced.
Despite running rampant in the conference portion of the regular season, JMU dropped the CAA Championship Game to Hofstra, 7-4. The Dukes still qualified for the NCAA tournament, but bounced in the Knoxville Regional after losing back-to-back games against Tennessee and Ohio.
With Good sidelined, JMU was led by sophomore pitcher Odicci Alexander — who was the CAA Player of the Year — and freshman pitcher Payton Buresch — who took home CAA Rookie of the Year. Head coach Loren LaPorte was the third first-year head coach for James Madison to win CAA Coach of the Year, and the Dukes had five total athletes earn regular-season CAA accolades.
The conclusion of the Dukes’ season could be viewed as a fluke for a team that ranked first in the CAA in ERA, shutouts, home runs and slugging percentage, but they also fell second to Hofstra in strikeouts, saves and opposing batting average. With Good back in 2019, JMU should be a fearsome bunch with the potential to be the best pitching rotation in the nation.
JMU swim & dive: 9-1 (4-0 CAA)
Since winning the conference championship back in February, JMU swim & dive has begun this year’s campaign with a 6-1 mark — the lone loss coming against Liberty on Oct. 20.
JMU continues to dominate the diving boards, as then-sophomore Hope Byrum and then-freshman Emily Gross won CAA Diver of the Year and CAA Rookie Diver of the Year, respectively, and Dane Pederson was awarded CAA Diving Coach of the Year.
This year, JMU has earned four CAA honors — two in swimming and two in diving. Junior swimmer Bonnie Zhang has been cruising this season, and a number of divers have continued their success from years past.
JMU men’s tennis: 16-7 (4-3 CAA)
Winners of 12 of its first 14 matches, JMU men’s tennis had a scorching hot start to the 2018 calendar year. Conference play proved as its downfall, and after barely going over .500 against CAA-foes it was trounced in the quarterfinals of the postseason tournament.
The Dukes were led by the strong doubles team of senior Theophile Lanthiez and sophomore Paul Mendoza, who earned First Team All-CAA Doubles. Mendoza also took Second Team All-CAA Singles, along with freshman Alvaro Arce. Lanthiez was the lone Duke to graduate last year, making for a more experienced group in 2019 hopeful to continue non-conference success into the CAA.
JMU women’s tennis: 21-4 (4-1 CAA)
It took 47 days and 12 matches for women’s tennis to lose its first of the season, as it put out its best season in program history. The Dukes were led by CAA Rookie of the Year Liz Norman, who was named First Team All-CAA in singles and doubles, teaming up with junior Abby Amos. Freshman Anna Makarova also earned first team honors.
JMU established itself as one of the top teams in the CAA, but has still struggled to get over the hump of the women’s tennis dynasty of William & Mary — who handed the Dukes half of their 2018 losses.
The Dukes will also be tasked with sustaining their success with an overhaul of a roster. Former head coach James Bryce left the Dukes, along with both of Norman and Makarova. JMU is now led by head coach Shelly Jaudon, who will need to find ways to make up for the loss of talent on the court.
JMU track & field
JMU track and field had several strong showings throughout the year, including three top-five finishes in the month of April. The momentum would slow down from there, as JMU placed sixth out of eight teams in the CAA Championships and 11th out of 44 teams in the ECAC Championships.
The Dukes did have eight top-three finishes in the CAA Championships, six of which were in short-distance races. Junior Alexys Taylor won the 100-meter dash, senior Meredith Willis placed second in the 200-meter dash and the Dukes placed third in the 4x100-meter relay. After the season head coach Chereè Hicks departed from the program, and Ron McCown was hired as her replacement.
JMU volleyball: 22-7 (13-3 CAA)
It’s hard to consider a 22-win season a letdown, but 2018 marked the end of a potential three-peat for James Madison volleyball in the CAA tournament. Despite being picked as preseason favorites, the Dukes fell to Hofstra in a five-set thriller of a title game and walked away empty handed.
The Dukes still took home plenty of CAA honors, as junior middle blocker M’Kaela White won First Team All-CAA and senior outside hitter Bryn Recker won Second Team All-CAA. JMU was great defensively — leading the conference in opponent hitting percentage (16.4) and total blocks (301) — but was just fourth in kills and assists and third in hitting percentage.
JMU’s shortcoming in the championship is a small hiccup in the program’s reign over the CAA. With a majority of the team returning in 2019, the CAA should once again fear Dukes volleyball.
Contact Blake Pace at email@example.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.