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JMU field hockey kicks off conference play Friday when it travels to take on in-state rival William and Mary. The Dukes look to improve from last season’s 2-4 conference record where they squeaked into the CAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed despite falling 5-4 to eventual champion the Tribe in overtime in the regular season finale.

The Dukes opened conference play with a 5-2 loss to the Tribe on Friday. JMU will look to win their first game of CAA play Sunday against Hofstra.

JMU finished fifth in the regular season but made the CAA Tournament by owning a tiebreaker over Drexel and Hofstra. Last season, JMU averaged 2.5 goals per game and had 197 shots attempts while allowing 3.61 goals per game and 283 shot attempts. 

“We take it as a motivation,” junior midfielder Rachel Yeager said. “It’s motivational just because we want to be the same place we were last year. We want to be further. We want to make it further than we did last year, and I think, as of now, the goal is making it to the CAA Tournament and doing well in conference play during the regular season. Making it to that tournament is really the goal and from then on, obviously winning and making it further.

Delaware led the conference in goals per game (3.1), assists per game (2.65) and fewest goals allowed per game (1.7). JMU ranked fourth in shots per game (10.94), four goals per game (2.5) and second in saves per game (6.94).

This season, JMU sits at 4-7 on the season. The Dukes are coming off a tough four-game stretch where they played four teams ranked in the top 25, including the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.

“If you want to be the best, you have to play the best, and sometimes you take your lumps,” JMU head coach Christy Morgan said. “And the outside world doesn’t sometimes understand that. But they’re the greatest lessons, so I love the challenge of playing a top team. Yeah, I want to knock them off, but we’re not ready for that yet. We have two more top-10 teams that we play the rest of the season that we can try to take out. But, the thing that it gives us is experience. We know what it’s like, we know the speed we have to play to be one of the top-10, top-20 teams. So, we’re striving to create that.” 

After starting its conference play against William & Mary, the Dukes will come back to the JMU Field Hockey Complex to host Drexel and Hofstra. JMU finishes the regular season with road showdowns against Towson and Delaware, a consistent CAA title contender.

By having key returners and a year of experience in conference play for its young core, JMU is much different than it was this time last year. The Dukes are using last year’s struggles as a learning tool for how to correct them.

“It’s a new team. We have some strong leaders and returners that, you know, when you go through a little adversity, you like to come out on top,” Rigg said. “This year, I think it’s not holding back, going after every single game. And there’s going to be a little adversity along the way but just staying true to who we are as a team.”

Contact Jason Clampitt at clampijt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more field hockey coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.