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With countless hours already put into the preseason and a large countdown clock on the front page of the schedule, the JMU lacrosse team is prepared to open a new chapter with the upcoming 2020 season.

As the reigning three-time champion of the CAA, the Dukes have created a name for themselves. They were picked as the favorite for the CAA title again in 2020. This season, the Dukes can make history with a fourth consecutive championship, which hasn’t been accomplished in the conference.

“One of our goals this year is trying to make conference history and win a fourth CAA title in a row,” senior attacker Maddie McDaniel said. “We are just really taking it day by day and trying to get better every day to achieve this.”

With the season opener Saturday against UNC, the Dukes said they want to accomplish their goals with the help of new faces. Since last year’s graduating class included key offensive leaders in attackers Hanna Haven and Shannon Quinlan, the Dukes look to overcome barriers in order to excel in leadership and gameplay.

“The excitement factor is the unknown right now,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said at Monday’s O’Neill’s Grill Fan and Press Luncheon. “This is a very new JMU squad. We had some dynamic personalities graduate on the offensive and defensive end, so really, we’re just trying to create some units … I’m hoping to see multiple players step up for us.”

The Dukes finished with a 16-4 record but suffered an overtime loss to Stony Brook during the NCAA Tournament. JMU returns as the only CAA team ranked nationally. The Dukes rank No. 17 in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Division I Coaches Poll, which was released on Jan. 27.

“I think the team has really responded [to] the way that our season ended last year,” redshirt junior goalie Molly Dougherty said. “This group is really hardworking, and everyone is willing to do extra and get more reps to keep us moving forward. I think this is a really great group of people who are really there for the right reasons.”

As a team driven by success, eight starters from the 2019 season are returning for this season. Of the eight, five have been named preseason All-CAA members, including McDaniel and senior attacker Logan Brennan, senior midfielder Kelsey Reed, senior defender Emma Johnson and Doughtery, who was a 2019 All-American Goalie.

Leadership arises from challenges. With the season opener against No. 2 UNC, the Dukes have a challenging schedule. This creates an opportunity to ground themselves as a team and to work hard in practice, hoping for results in games like these. Doughtery plays a large part in that hard work and team growth, two important traits for another CAA title run.

“She’s going to have to be our rock,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “Look at the first three games of our season: We open up with three of four teams being a ranked opponent; there’s going to be really high-power offenses coming at us. Our defense is just going to have to be there for us, and Molly being a huge part of that ... We are trying to push her in not just being a ball-stopper, not just playing in her circle, really trying to get her more comfortable coming out of the net. Most of the time in defensive units, the goalie leads the team in ground balls, so that is what we’re really trying to push her.”

With experienced veterans and promising freshmen, the dynamic and chemistry of the Dukes change every year — specifically this season, with all three team captains graduating after 2019. JMU has six fresh pairs of legs who will begin their collegiate lacrosse career this season, including defender Elise Fiannaca, attackers Tai Jankowski and Isabella Peterson, goalkeeper Lexie Kotsailidis and midfielders Sophia Macchia and Taylor Marchetti.

“We loved our seniors from last year; they really helped pave a way for us, but I think now, our current seniors are ready to take that role and become leaders on and off the field,” McDaniel said. “I think we’ve done a good job of trying to instill our values into the rest of the team. I think the freshmen have really bought into what we are trying to instill into them, and they are eager and ready to play. We’re in a really good place right now with team chemistry.”

Contact Kendall LoMauro at lomaurke@dukes.jmu.edu. For more lacrosse coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.