Ever heard the phrase “nobody’s perfect?” Don’t tell the JMU lacrosse team that when playing Virginia Tech. Coming into today’s matchup, the Dukes were a perfect 15-0 all time against the in-state rival, and they had no intentions of putting a number in the loss column. Through patient offensive play and resilience to Virginia Tech’s physical defense, the Dukes scraped up a gritty 16-11 win.
Senior attacker Kristen Gaudian, a preseason All-American, was a revelation on the offensive side of the ball. Setting a career high with six goals and an assist, her dynamic playmaking helped jumpstart the offense. After Virginia Tech took an early 2-1 lead, Gaudian scored two straight goals and the Dukes didn’t relinquish the lead all game. Of Gaudian’s six goals, all of them were unassisted.
“It was just the right opportunities,” Gaudian said. “I think we were moving the ball really well as a team and it opened up opportunities to drive. They also kept putting me at the line and I just happened to finish.”
Coming into the game, the Dukes knew Virginia Tech wasn’t nearly as athletic or fast, indicating a physical game. It showed up on the box score as both teams combined for a staggering 82 penalties and 7 yellow cards; if a player didn’t walk away with a bruise you didn’t play hard enough. For the Dukes, the key to beating such a rugged defense was keeping their composure and not backing down from the Hokies physicality.
“Tech is always physical,” senior midfielder Haley Warden said. “Whenever a team comes out and plays physical we have to match it. We don’t get scared by it, we step up to the challenge. We handled our emotions well this game; we handled the fouls well, we handled our retaliations well. I think we were very composed in that aspect and knowing that moving forward is going to be huge.”
Virginia Tech’s zone defense, which JMU characteristically has had trouble with, was tough to break in the beginning of the first half. There were a lot of dropped passes, balls off the pipe and turnovers, suggesting the Hokies’ high pressure defense might present a bigger problem than expected. The Dukes stayed true to their blueprint offensively and didn’t change anything schematically, rather they tweaked the timing of their cuts and passes based on the defense’s reactions. Eventually, the Dukes were able to wear down the Hokies and break open the game.
“We talked about a few different adjustments in terms of when to drive, when to feed, and basically breaking down their defense,” senior midfielder Elena Romesburg said. “They play such a high-pressure zone that it’s easy to tire them out. We just relaxed and let them run around like crazy; we knew we were going to figure it out.”
Last Saturday, the Dukes defeated No. 3 UNC in double overtime, one of the program’s most impressive victories in years. Coming off such an emotionally draining battle, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dukes didn’t have the gusto to battle all day with Tech. Frankly, it’d be completely understandable. For a team with an eye on the national championship however, it wouldn't be wise to underestimate their focus on winning.
“Today was reminder that you have to secure that win with this one,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “We don’t want to be going up and down, back-and-forth, we want to be consistent with our message and with our play. We’ve been the team to beat a ranked opponent and lose to an unranked opponent and we understand how detrimental how that can be. This team is focused on body of work right now to get us to a championship.”
The season is young, but the Dukes look like a team ready to compete for a national title. Not only do they beat the great opponents, but they beat down the good ones. They’re far from becoming the team they need to be; there’s always areas that can be improved. Today proved however, that toughness isn’t one of those areas. Today also served as a reminder: If you’re going to go Hokie hunting, bring a hunting dog — namely a Duke.