Despite struggling last season, JMU field hockey managed to make the CAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed with a record of 6-12 (2-4 CAA), where it ultimately fell 8-1 to the eventual champion, Delaware. The Dukes finished with a 4-7 record against opponents outside their conference, posting a 1-8 record on the road as opposing teams outscored them 65-45. This season, JMU’s success could be determined by learning from last season’s struggles.
The biggest element for JMU is the return of redshirt senior forward/midfielder Miranda Rigg. After being limited to only five games due to injury, she rejoins the team with a young foundation that has a year of experience under its belt. During her career at JMU, Rigg scored 38 goals with back-to-back 10 plus goal seasons in 2016 and 2017.
During Rigg’s absence, sophomore midfielder Elfi de Rooij and sophomore forward Ongeziwe Mali emerged as centerpieces in JMU’s offense, combining for 14 goals and 33 points. Both players ranked in the top three in goals and points for the Dukes and were only behind junior midfielder Rachel Yeager.
With a high-powered player set to return, it adds to the team’s offensive scoring power, which averaged 2.50 goals per game and 10.9 shots per game. While the offense ranked fourth in the conference in goals per game and shots per game, the biggest flaw was the defense. Last season, JMU gave up five or more goals on eight separate occasions — three of them against conference rivals. The Dukes were also 1-4 in games that were decided by one goal.
One of the struggles JMU has to fix is limiting the opponent’s scoring chances, especially in the first half. The Dukes’ defense gave up 28 goals on 126 shots in the first half of games.
Junior goaltender Caitlin Nelson is vital for JMU if it wants to advance in the CAA Tournament. Last season, she had a 5-11 record with 103 saves and a .660 save percentage, which ranked her in third in saves and sixth in save percentage in the CAA. For JMU to get back to a winning record in the conference, it will need its defenders as well as Nelson to limit the scoring chances.
Nelson is JMU’s last line of defense, and if she can take the next step during her junior year, the Dukes could be a major force in the conference. But the burden shouldn’t be all on Nelson’s shoulders — the defense needs to do a better job at shutting down opponents’ scoring chances.
This season, JMU plays three teams that were ranked in the top 25 last season, including the defending national champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels. While growing pains will occur for the Duke's core, the biggest factor for JMU this season is to stay healthy.
If JMU can avoid numerous injuries and Mail, de Rooij and Yeager build on their impressive 2018 campaigns, then the Dukes could knock off Delaware to take the CAA Championship. Although losing key players to graduation, Rigg, as well as JMU’s young talents, will have an impact on the 2019 season.
Contact Jason Clampitt at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more field hockey coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.