JMU women's soccer earned the CAA regular season title with a 1-1 draw against Delaware on Sunday. With the tie, the Dukes (10-7-1, 7-1-1 CAA) will host the CAA tournament, which starts Friday.
Sunday’s game was senior day for the Dukes, who started all their seniors and painted each graduating player's number around the center circle. Senior forward Christine Tack even made the start in a full leg brace. After kickoff, the Blue Hens immediately passed the ball out of bounds so Tack could be subbed off.
“We started the seniors,” head coach Joshua Walters said. “And my plan from here on out is to always find a way to start the seniors.”
JMU started the game with energy, earning three corners in the first 10 minutes. During this first part of the game, the Dukes threatened with several dangerous shots on goal, but none found the back of the net.
“We had a lot of good opportunities [but] we didn’t finish as many as we should have,” redshirt sophomore defender/forward Maia Foley said. “Everything we do on offense comes from the defense. All the opportunities came from the spectacular job the defense was doing.”
As the game progressed, it grew into a defensive stalemate. Delaware had opportunities to test JMU’s all-freshmen defensive backline. In response, junior forward Haley Crawford took advantage of Delaware’s more aggressive play.
“What a beast,” Foley said. “She is seriously the best soccer player I think I have ever played with. Every time she gets the ball, an opportunity comes from it.”
In the second half, Delaware stunned the Dukes by scoring within the first five minutes. The goal came from a corner that sophomore defender/midfielder Olivia Schuck lofted over redshirt junior goalie Olivia Miller.
“Our standard is to go for the shutout … We actually have this thing where coach buys us doughnuts if we get a shutout. It’s a 0 for a 0,” redshirt freshmen forward/midfielder Hannah Coulling said. “I don’t like being scored on, and I don’t like the defense getting scored on, because it puts us in a worse position then we need to be.”
In a 1-0 hole, JMU faced losing sole possession of the CAA regular season title and having to travel to Massachusetts for the CAA tournament. A loss to Delaware would give Northeastern the chance to host the tournament over the Dukes.
“Our goal was to host the tournament,” Coulling said. “Going to Northeastern, their field is s****y, their field is so bad, their turf is rock hard.”
In the 55th minute, Delaware freshmen goalie Kamryn Stablein had to make an incredible save by reaching back over her shoulder and shoveling the ball away from goal. Fortunately for the Dukes, she then threw the ball out toward junior midfielder Claire Meiser who headed it back at goal. Foley slotted it in a few yards from goal.
“We were running the play we were supposed to and I knew we weren’t in the right position,” Foley said. “But every other position was taken, so I was like, “Alright I’m just going to go and hope I’m enough out of the way where I don’t block someone else from scoring.’ The ball went over my head and Claire Meiser hit it, and it came right to me.”
The goal seemed to give the Dukes a revitalized energy. The game concluded much like it started — chances from the Dukes, but none finding the back of the net.
“We knew in the second half, we just needed a tie,” Walters said. ”So, we tried to be smart about it, and don’t take a ton of risk, and just get the tie.”
Still locked at one goal apiece, the game then went to overtime. In the second half of the extra period, Crawford gained energy and tricks. At points, there were four Blue Hens guarding her alone.
“That kid runs all day, she has an unbelievable work rate, and you can see it on the field,” Walters said. “Haley Crawford sparked us, and played like I would imagine a conference player of the year plays, just always a threat.”
In the end, the score of 1-1 would stand and JMU would get its CAA regular season trophy. It’s the most success the Dukes have had in their conference in more than five years.
“I’ve never had this feeling, so it is the best,” Coulling said. “It’s the best feeling to succeed with everyone around you. This is what we looked forward to, this is what we worked for starting July 1. I’m so happy and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The Dukes earned home field advantage for the CAA tournament and will move straight to the semifinals. JMU’s first postseason game will be at Sentara Park on Sunday.
Contact Josh Meyers at email@example.com. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.