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JMU fans rally with fans after the upset win over Oklahoma on June 3, 2021.

After a Game 2 loss against No. 1 Oklahoma on Monday, the Dukes’ softball season ended in the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) semifinals. However, for the family and friends of the team, the Dukes walk away from the tournament victorious.

Over and over again, the message from those close to the Dukes was the same: pride in their girls just as they felt after game one against Oklahoma, and pride in how far JMU came in the softball world this season. It’s been a season of records — JMU made history as the first unseeded team to make it into the WCWS semifinals — and of breakout recognition in the softball world.

Jimmy Newton, redshirt junior outfielder Logan Newton’s father, pointed first to the fact that prior to this season, JMU softball was far from a nationally recognized softball program. This season, he said, has put JMU on the map in the softball world because of the unprecedented nature of the Dukes’ progress.

“We opened up everybody’s eyes on JMU softball,” Newton said. “We came in here, and we performed well — we competed, and everybody knows we competed, so I feel good about that one.”

When asked what he would say to the Dukes, “Be proud of yourself, take it and build on it.”

Echoing Newton’s statement about JMU’s newfound national recognition, fan Jeff Herzig praised the way the Dukes have gained fans from all over the nation who may have never heard of JMU before this season.

“You’ve got fans out here from all over the country wanting to take pictures with girls from JMU that couldn’t tell you where JMU’s located,” Herzig said. “That right there speaks volumes of what they’ve done this year.”

His words to the team: “[I have] nothing but praise and kudos and accomplishments for this team.”

But more than the national recognition or the accolades, the Dukes’ JMU family expressed their pride in the players themselves. LeeAnn Jubas, redshirt junior infielder Sara Jubas’ mother, spoke to the pride she feels at how far the team managed to come this year — this year was JMU’s first in the WCWS.

“I thought the girls did a fantastic job,” Jubas said. “For a team that was a three-seed going into regionals not expected to even win that, and they’ve been on the road for a month, they should be very proud.” 

How’s Jubas feeling about the Dukes? “Proud, very proud.”

JMU softball alumna (’13) Megan Shinaberry shared the same sentiment. From her perspective as an alumna, she said, the Dukes have pushed the JMU program further than anyone would’ve predicted.

“[I’m] beyond proud,” Shinaberry said. “We’re elated for them. They absolutely have performed past any of our expectations … They have just brought [this program] to another level.”

Chandra Wells, freshman pitcher Meredith Wells’ mother and a JMU alumna (’94), said that what’s also greater than the accolades is the way the Dukes have proven themselves as individuals throughout this season and in their interactions with each other.

“They had a great run and just stepped up to the cage, and everytime they played together as a team, they played for each other — their love for each other just showed out on the field,” Wells said. “[I] just love them all like my own. They’re just awesome kids and awesome softball players, but even better people, and that’s going to take them far in life.”

Her words to the Dukes? “I would say [to them], ‘Keep your heads up and be very proud of what you just accomplished for this softball team, this program and this university.’”

Across the Dukes’ fanbase, it’s a consistent sentiment: They’re proud of what the Dukes have accomplished, of the way they’ve changed JMU’s standing in the softball world and of the girls themselves — regardless of the loss. As football alumnus John Pettis (’98) said, “They had a great season, and we’re proud of them.”

“I’m so proud of this group of girls,” Herzig said. “For this group to get it done, it’s amazing. It’s truly unbelievable that a school like James Madison finds itself on the biggest stage in softball with powerhouses like Oklahoma, Florida State, Alabama — a lot of pride going on right now for JMU softball. It’s a big moment, and this isn’t the end.”

As Newton said, “[The Dukes] left it all on the field — what else could you ask for? They gave 100% every play of the game.” 

Contact Jake Conley at breezeeditor@gmail.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.