Looks can be deceiving. On the surface, it appears JMU women’s soccer is headed for a third-straight losing season under first-year head coach Joshua Walters, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Dukes are laying the foundation for something great, and while it hasn’t taken form yet, team spirits are high as non-conference play continues.
JMU’s offseason has been unprecedented, as there's a new head coach for the first time in the program’s 28-year history. With the change came a new voice, defensive strategy, conditioning program and ways to use data for insights into player health and performance.
“Josh [Walters] has really set us up to figure out what parts of the field we need to work on to get us to a championship,” senior forward Hailey Stein said. “He’s done this statistically and honed in on those numbers, and our formation is setting us up to do that.”
Walters identified JMU’s defense as an area for potential improvement after the team allowed goals at thethird-highest rate in the CAA last season. Results have been mixed as the Dukes have transitioned to a new defensive approach, but with time, JMU should boast an intimidating back line by season’s end.
“We learned a lot of different formations and pressing techniques,” junior forward Haley Crawford said. “We didn’t press last year, we were more set back.”
JMU’s more aggressive style of play should translate to more forced turnovers and a higher rate of possession, which would help the team on both ends. Currently, the Dukes are scoring at thesecond-highest rate in the conference despite taking the second-fewest shots in the CAA thus far.
“We need more shots on goal,” Stein said. “The press that we’re doing is all specifically for that. [Coach] knows what we need to do to get goals.”
Discounting JMU’s chances to compete in CAA play solely based on the team’s 1-5 record is near-sighted, as fans should expect to see improvement in the next few weeks as the team gels. Despite significant offseason changes, the Dukes are ready to compete for CAA titles both now and for years to come.
“I don’t have a doubt in my mind that this is a [competing] year,” Stein said. “He’s so passionate about the players we have and working with what we have.”
Known as a top recruiter nationwide, Walters plans to bring elite high school players to JMU on a consistent basis after assembling the No. 1 and No. 2 recruiting classes at UCLA in 2016 and 2017, respectively. For now, this season is all that matters, and the question of who will lead the Dukes in the future isn’t something Walters is dwelling on this season.
“We want to win this year,” Walters said. “This is not a program in transition for a year. Some coaches make the mistake of going, ‘Ok, I’ve gotta get my kids in here.’ I look at it right now that these are my kids, and we’re going to figure out how to win with these kids.”
As far as commitment to current athletes is concerned, Walters spoke off the record on how he’s using next-gen technology like biometrics and GPS devices to log how much effort players are exerting in practice and games. For example, Walters knows how much to play senior midfielder Carmen Thomas, who’s coming off an ACL tear in 2017. This revolutionary approach to conditioning and player development is just one of example of how Walters is changing the game for JMU on and off the field.
While the new processes he’s implementing may take time, Walters is fully committed to the success of the JMU program in both the short and long term. It’s only a matter of time before the Dukes start seeing success on the field and in the win column.
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.