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JMU field hockey looks to bounce back from an 8-11 (3-3 CAA) record in 2019. 

JMU field hockey has been in a rebuilding phase through the past few seasons. With many young players filling up the roster, leaders on the team have been putting themselves out there to build connections and prepare for a potential season in the spring. These connections will be vital against the CAA, and will have an immediate impact on how well the Dukes play this season.

JMU has the ability to be a top contender in the CAA. Fans saw a small look into the team’s potential during a few games last season including beating No. 22 Old Dominion. The offensive agility and speed was rampant and productive, and there was a strong defense that melted together for the Dukes’ strongest win of the season. That game was a clicking moment for the Dukes, and the team will need to revisit that level to continue the pressure in the conference.

The team will also need to fill the shoes of big names. Former midfielder Miranda Rigg, forward Ongeziwe Mali and defender Megan Guzzardi all are no longer JMU players. Those three were leaders both statistically and physically on the team, and now the team has to adapt to an unknown season without its strongest players. Players such as redshirt junior goalies Kylie LeBlanc and Caitlyn Nelson began their journey as team leaders last season and are expected to continue through the course of this season.

In regard to the CAA opponents, JMU placed fourth last season. The team's looking to take a higher place this season, and the entire conference is vying to take down the dominant Delaware field hockey team. The Blue Hens won the CAA championship last season, taking back the title after a double overtime loss to William & Mary in 2018. JMU lost to Delaware in the CAA semifinals 5-3 last season, and lost 8-1 in 2018. However, this season Delaware is a young team, compared to its previous status as an older team the past two years. This leaves an opportunity for opponents to take advantage and reach for the championship.

Another major contender in the CAA is William & Mary. Currently, the Tribe is the likely CAA front runner for the 2021 season. With a balanced age range across the roster, the team has depth and experience that’s needed to handle a challenging season and a championship, as well. JMU and William & Mary have played each other 82 times in history, with JMU winning 43 times and tying an additional 10. 

Both teams have shown strong promise in what they can do throughout the course of last season. The long history the teams have endured has created a rivalry that makes matches intense and interesting to watch. There have been high scoring games, total shutouts and some physicality throughout the years. The Dukes have been able to beat William & Mary before and have the ability to this season.

JMU’s aggression on the field is something that makes it stand out. The focus on consistent, smooth passes allows for the team to move the ball quickly up the field from defense to offense. The defense is also an edge that the Dukes have, particularly with goalkeeping. Both starting goalies have good experience rotating throughout the season, and have faced all types of teams. 

Outside of Delaware and William & Mary, the CAA is all fairly even across the board. The teams vary in experience each season, however they are all well matched with each other. Towson finished last in the CAA and ranked at No. 70, with Hofstra not much further ahead at No. 60. The rest of the CAA follows in similar order, with the standout being Delaware. 

For the Dukes to have a successful CAA run, the need to win on the road is key. Last season JMU had a 1-2 record away in conference. However, the Dukes went 2-1 at home. For JMU to regain some strength in conference play, winning away games will be crucial. If the Dukes can win more away games, not only does it give the team confidence to win games on the road, but it makes the team more intimidating.

Head coach Christy Morgan has been creating schedules for the Dukes that challenge their skills and their mentality. JMU took on No. 1 UNC last season, as well as No. 14 Ohio State, No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 UVA. When the team took on UNC, it was in the midst of the Tar Heels’ record-breaking winning streak. Although the team didn’t have success against them, Morgan used the match as a way to push the team to keep fighting.

The biggest elements that JMU will need to have a strong conference showing are young leadership, winning away games and fighting harder when losing. There’s potential for the team to win the conference championship, but to do so those elements need to be in place. The CAA is a conference where potential can be everything for a team as long as it knows how to expand potential into action.

Contact Madison Hricik at hricikmn@dukes.jmu.edu. For more field hockey coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.