JMU Lacrosse

JMU women's lacrosse heads into the NCAA tournament with a record of 18-1, and will find out its first opponent on Sunday night at 9:30.

JMU lacrosse picked up its second consecutive CAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship Sunday afternoon with a 16-10 victory over Towson, avenging its title loss at the hands of the Tigers in the 2016 season.

The game got off to a blistering start for both offenses, as 10 different players combined for 10 goals in the first 20 minutes of play. The Dukes managed to lead the entire first half, but the Tigers had an answer for the Dukes’ antics and didn’t let the JMU lead increase by more than two through the first 22 minutes of action.

“I think Towson is a great team,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “They’re going to fight and that’s OK. We’re in a championship game, it should be a battle so it’s what we expected.”

Things would fall into the hands of the Dukes in the final 7:50 of the first half, as JMU went on a five-goal run to end the first half at 10-4. JMU controlled the middle of the field through the midway point, boasting an 11-4 advantage on draw controls which provided a kick-start to its offense.

In the second half, the Dukes struggled to handle an offensive downpour from Towson. The Tigers added three goals within the first nine minutes of action in the second half, cutting JMU’s lead to three. Towson was led by freshman attacker Kaitlin Thornton and junior attacker Natalie Sulmonte, who ended the game with a combined five goals and three assists.

The JMU offense, meanwhile, sputtered out of the gate for the start of the second half until a goal from senior attacker Kristen Gaudian got things going for the Dukes. Gaudian finished the day with five goals and one assist.

Just as the first half simmered down after the opening third of play, the JMU defense hardened after the opening 10 minutes of the second half — allowing just three goals through the remainder of the game. Mid-half adjustments proved significant for the Dukes in halting Towson pressure.

“I think it was just reminding each other why we were here and what the goal was,” redshirt freshman goalkeeper Molly Dougherty said. “We had the lead the whole game and we know they’re going to score, but as soon as it happened we discussed what went wrong and worked to prevent the next one.”

Senior leadership was a key for JMU yet again, as five seniors — midfielder Elena Romesburg, midfielder Haley Warden, attacker Katie Kerrigan, attacker Morgan Hardt and Gaudian — combined for 21 points with 13 goals and eight assists.

“It’s a juggernaut,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “We’re big, we’re strong, we share the ball, we can drive, we can dish. We’re just multifaceted and I think that’s why it creates such a challenge for defensive units.”

While senior experience anchored the offense, the defense was held intact by Dougherty. In her first postseason weekend, the youngster had 14 saves on a combined 43 shots from Towson and Delaware.

“Molly has played incredibly well,” Gaudian said. “She never let anyone get in her head and was making huge stops for us which really fired up our defense. She played lights out for us this weekend.”

Despite the championship gold, the Dukes are far from finished with their season aspirations. Receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship, the Dukes will await the selection show — taking place Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on NCAA.com — to discover their next opponent. They’ll join a field of 26 teams all fighting for the best name in women’s collegiate lacrosse.

“The expectations will be to take it one game at a time,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “But we definitely want to compete for a national championship, get to the final four and put JMU on the map.”

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