Jackie Benitez (copy)

JMU women's basketball has five different seniors who've contributed to the growth of the program. 

In the 2016-17 season, the JMU women’s basketball team won the CAA regular season championship and advanced to the third round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The next season, the team fell in the CAA Championship game and once again made it all the way to the third round of the WNIT. Then, in 2018-19, the team made the WNIT again after falling short in the CAA Tournament and fought all the way to the semifinals.

Clearly, the last three years have been full of success for the women’s basketball program. It’s consistent thanks to the 2020 senior class, with members like guards Kamiah Smalls and Lexie Barrier, forward Devon Merritt, redshirt senior guard Jackie Benitez and center Kayla Cooper Williams. 

“There is so much depth to their awards and recognitions,” head coach Sean O’Regan said. “On the court, I think they have the chance to be as special as any group that I have been a part of.”

These seniors haven’t only made an impact on the court ­— they’ve made one off it as well. They work with freshmen to help them out with college, such as how to handle classes with workouts. Members of the senior class want to make sure the freshmen are prepared both when they step into class and onto the court.

“They represent the program exactly how you would want it represented,” O’Regan said. “They understand the importance of passing on the values to the next group, and for me, that’s all you can really ask for.” 

The seniors are also working in the locker room and with the strength and conditioning coaches so they can get ready to provide even more of an impact as they come into their final season. The group said it wants to be “tough and fast” so the team can reach the ultimate goal of winning a CAA Championship.

“I think that this class has been one of the most special classes,”  Smalls said. “I think this group has everything for JMU, and I think the passion we have for the game, the way we hold each other accountable and our chemistry is something special.”

The senior class also knows what’s at stake this year, with the Convocation Center in its senior season as well. The girls said they want to make sure they play well in the final year of the historic Convo. The last regular season game in the Convo this year will be a women’s game on March 1 against Delaware.

The senior class, however, has already made its impact on the Convo before this season has even begun. With their teamwork and skills, they bring in fans each year, including when the team went to the semifinals in the WNIT a year ago. Last season, the attendance was 40,308; in 2017-18, it was 38,866; and in 2016-17, it was 48,157.

“I think that we have done something great here at the Convo,” Smalls said. “We keep everybody involved, and we make sure it’s always electric in here.”

Now, looking back at the last three years, the senior class is ready to begin its final chapter. The players have learned and developed since their freshman year, and not only with their skills on the court; they’ve found ways to impact their lives off the court as well.

“For myself, I have definitely become more vocal since my freshman year,” Cooper Williams said. “When I came here, I was very quiet and reserved, and I think just being here and learning helped me become a lot more vocal.”

This senior class has contributed on the court, with three WNIT seasons and a couple CAA Championship appearances. However, in their final season, the class wants the ultimate goal: a CAA Championship. In the last four years, the team grabbed the title, and this year, the seniors are determined to have one to their name.

“I feel great about this season,” Barrier said. “Obviously, we have a big senior class, we have big energy, but everybody’s excited, and we’re ready to get to work.”

Finally, the seniors have made an impact on the Convo and JMU as a whole. They’ve filled the seats in the Convo and hope to bring success in their final season, leaving the venue on a good note.

“I feel like we have impacted this program in a lot of different ways,”  Barrier said. “We’ve showed good chemistry, we’ve showed good energy off the court, so I think we have set good standards overall. We want to go out with a bang.”

Contact Savannah Reger at regersj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.