For the last three years, JMU women’s lacrosse has played North Carolina in its season opener, each of the three meetings resulting in a Tar Heel victory. But when No. 3 UNC came to Harrisonburg to take on a senior-filled JMU squad, the No. 16 Dukes fired on all cylinders, beating the Tar Heels for the first time in 18 years. Senior attacker Kristen Gaudian netted the game-winning goal in double overtime to give JMU a 15-14 sudden-death victory.
“I jumped on Kristen right away, we dog-piled on her,” senior midfielder Elena Romesburg said. “Then I went over to Emma Johnson because she was the one who maintained possession through that transition and got the ball to Kristen.”
Gaudian had the game-tying goal with 1:26 left to play in regulation and matched her career high in goals with five.
“I saw a little bit of a lane and worked it a bit,” Gaudian said. “I pulled out and then reattacked and was wide open. It is my favorite shot to take.”
Gaudian’s final two goals will be the memory from the thrilling top-25 matchup, but the second half was full of game-altering moments. The Dukes exploded out of halftime, going on a 5-1 tear that put them up 12-9, the largest lead of the game. The run was due in part to JMU winning seven straight draw controls, many of which were won by senior midfielder Haley Warden — who finished the game with eight draw controls. Warden was the Preseason CAA Player of the Year and is the JMU record holder for draw controls in a season.
But the 12-9 lead would soon be erased. Junior goalkeeper Ellie Harmeyer gave up her 10th goal, leading head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe to pull Harmeyer and replace her with Molly Dougherty. The sophomore goalkeeper had never seen game action and was in the middle of a two-possession game against the No. 3 team in the country.
“We thought that UNC was taking great shots,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “But we expect our goalies to affect the game and we didn’t feel that was happening, so why not give Molly a chance? It is a great situation to be in when you have options as a coach.”
Dougherty got off to a rough start, allowing three goals in her first 100 seconds of college action. However, she regrouped and allowed only one goal in the final 21 minutes of the game, including multiple game-saving saves. In her 24 minutes, the sophomore made a whopping eight saves.
“Sudden death is always a daunting thing to hear,” Dougherty said. “I let a few goals in and I knew I was there and could make those saves. So I just reset and took it play by play from there and my defenders worked to get me low-angle shots.”
The victory felt like more than just a season-opening win for the Dukes. JMU had five seniors honored to the Preseason All-CAA Team in January, none of whom have beaten North Carolina in three tries. Even though the CAA produced at-large bids to the NCAA tournament last year, the Dukes have never felt they’ve gotten the respect they deserve from the rest of the country due to not coming from a Power Five conference. With No. 1 Maryland and No. 4 Penn State still remaining on the schedule, this win provided the statement that Klaes-Bawcombe and JMU wanted to make.
“We are a team that is still fighting for respect and national notoriety,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “For us to be able to open our season with a big win like this, it’ll help us believe what we feel right now.”
JMU (1-0) will next host Virginia Tech on Wednesday. UNC (0-1) will travel to High Point to take on the Panthers on Friday.