If you went to a JMU lacrosse game last year, expect to see familiar faces on the field this year. The Dukes return eight of their 10 starters from last year’s CAA championship team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, falling to No. 4 Penn State 19-14. Of those returners, the Dukes are led by four seniors who highlighted the preseason All-CAA team.
“Having a huge senior class is really helpful on and off the field,” senior midfielder Haley Warden said. “Our class does a good job at making the freshmen feel really comfortable. It allows us to have great connections on the field.”
Warden was honored with CAA Preseason Player of the Year. The star midfielder was the CAA Player of the Year in 2017 after leading the Dukes in caused turnovers, ground balls and draw controls. Three seniors including midfielder Elena Romesburg, defender Rebecca Tooker and attacker Kristen Gaudian round out JMU’s preseason All-CAA honors. The quartet of seniors is a big reason the Dukes were the preseason favorites to win the CAA for the second-consecutive year.
Former goalkeeper Emily Poelma is one of the few graduates from last year’s team. Expect junior goalkeeper Ellie Harmeyer to start the year in goal, with sophomore Molly Dougherty nipping at her heels for the starting job.
The Dukes will need all the senior talent they have to take on a relentless schedule that includes UNC, Penn State, Maryland and Virginia; all of which were NCAA-tournament teams last year. Maryland and Penn State were both in the Final Four in the NCAA tournament with Maryland winning the national championship. The CAA also boasted two at-large bids last year in Elon and Towson and is expected to be among the nation’s strongest conferences in 2018 as well.
“I expect our conference to be able to produce at-large bids again,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “The last couple years this has been the third or fourth best conference in the country, so there is a big opportunity to represent there.”
Klaes-Bawcombe became the winningest head coach in JMU history last year when the Dukes defeated High Point - winners of the Big South conference - on Feb. 25.
Although the Dukes have plenty of returners bringing experience to the 2018 season, expect some quality playing time from some of the freshmen. Freshman attacker Katie Checkosky and freshman midfielder Charlotte Haggerty should see quality minutes as they join the Dukes after outstanding high school careers. Checkosky was selected to the U.S. Lacrosse All-American team as a junior and senior and Haggerty led John Carroll High School in goals as a senior. These two standout freshmen are accompanied by freshman defender Nicole Alecce, who comes from McDonogh, a powerhouse in high school lacrosse.
“Checkosky and Charlotte are huge assets on the attacking end,” Gaudian said. “Checkosky is seeing people really well from behind the net and Charlotte is really fast and helps a ton in transition.”
Gaudian led the Dukes in goals last year with 53 and was quick to give the freshman standouts high praise.
JMU will open the year on Feb. 10 at home against UNC, who won the national championship two years ago and edged the Dukes 16-14 last year in Chapel Hill.
“A lot of us have a chip on our shoulders because we’ve been close to them in the last couple years,” Tooker said. “We say with confidence that we will be able to make the Final Four this year and UNC is the first step to getting there.”
Contact Harry Holtzclaw at email@example.com. For more JMU lacrosse coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.