Molly Dougherty

Molly Dougherty earned First Team All-CAA honors in her debut season.

As JMU lacrosse practice concludes in the early hours of the morning and the Dukes start to head for the buses to take them back to campus, one woman is quietly left behind. She wasn’t ditched by her teammates or simply forgotten, but felt that an extra hour of practice in front of the net in freezing temperatures was a necessity to improve her game.

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Molly Dougherty has the work ethic of a winner and, after getting the taste of what it feels like to be a national champion, has her sights on being an even bigger force for JMU lacrosse in 2019.

“I want to elevate my game, of course, but more importantly I’m excited to be able to go for a full season,” Dougherty said.

For being the VaSID Rookie of the Year and a First Team All-CAA selection in her first season of play, Dougherty had an uneven beginning to her collegiate career.

After redshirting in 2017 to retain a year of eligibility, Dougherty began the season as the team’s backup — sitting behind then-junior Ellie Harmeyer. Dougherty would make the occasional appearance through the first half of the season and would even begin to split halves with her upperclassman counterpart as conference play opened up.

Though Dougherty was seeing her playing time gradually increase, her name had yet to make the starting lineup through 11 games. But when early April hit and the Dukes played host to the then-3-8 Drexel Dragons, JMU’s newest star was born — and only went up from there.

“She’s great,” senior defender Caroline Sdanowich said. “She’s always working and just pushing ourselves every time defensively. She’s just really good with giving her point of view and using her IQ to help the team be better.”

For a program that graduated all three team captains and eight senior athletes, Dougherty has found herself as one of the rising voices on the field and in the locker room. While she may talk with a soft tone off the field, her booming voice can’t escape the most distant ears.

“She’s our rock,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “The biggest thing that I think we’ve seen evolve for her is just confidence. She presents herself so confident, but is that real? I think that now, her performance in postseason this past year and in the fall has really validated for her the work she’s done behind the scenes and now she’s seeing it come through in her performance.”

That strong postseason run is what eventually took JMU to the top of world, as the Dukes finished the season with the sixth-best scoring defense in the nation. In the six games between the CAA and NCAA postseasons, Dougherty allowed just over 10 goals a game — including three games against top-12 offenses and five top-50 scorers in the country.

It isn’t just the Dukes who have picked up on Dougherty’s rise to fame. She spent her offseason working with Team USA on several occasions and most recently spent a weekend at Stanford University participating in the Spring Premiere for the national team. Her participation has her feeling comfortable leading the charge as the season inches closer.

“It’s all just having the initiative to not be afraid to speak up and to not be afraid to say something,” Dougherty said. “Even if you may not think its the right thing at the time, just so you know that you have a voice and that you’re using it and that people understand and respect you.”

With high confidence and a full season to be had in front of the cage, the 5-foot-7 goal saver is ready to anchor JMU lacrosse in its first ever title-defending season. With a maximum 11 extra starts in her grasp, she has the chance to not only rise up the list of all-time greats in JMU lore, but become one of the best goalkeepers in the nation.

Contact Blake Pace at breezesports@gmail.com. For more lacrosse coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.