After making the Final Four for the first time in 18 years, the No. 3 seeded Dukes beat No. 2 seed North Carolina 15-12 to advance to their first NCAA National Championship in school history.
Despite losing the opening three draw controls, JMU started the day off hot and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Senior attackers Hanna Haven and Katie Kerrigan and senior midfielder Haley Warden all scored in the first eight minutes of the contest to get the JMU offense churning quick.
“I think that we have a lot of offensive threats and I think that on any given day anybody can step up,” Warden told reporters after the game. “We knew that Kristen would get us opportunities later in the game. But I think that efforts by Hanna Haven and Katie Kerrigan really helped us when we needed them the most … So, I think that they were huge assets in the first half.”
After a quick 4-2 run from UNC, JMU closed out the opening half with three consecutive goals in the final five minutes, increasing its lead to 8-4 at the break. This run proved to be crucial for the Dukes, as UNC would go on to outscore JMU 8-7 in the second half. Through the first 30 minutes, JMU held the advantage in total shots, shots on goal, turnovers and ground balls while the Tar Heels dominated the draw controls.
The Dukes didn’t let their lead decrease to fewer than three in the final 30 minutes, as a second-half hat trick from Kristen Gaudian and goals from Morgan Hardt, Maddie McDaniel, Haven and Warden brought JMU’s goal total to 15.
While six different Dukes scored on the day, the game was owned offensively by Warden and her five goals — four of which came in the first half. After failing to find the back of the net against the No. 6 seed Florida Gators in the national quarterfinals, this offensive onslaught has refueled the Glen Mills native as she prepares for the championship game.
“We trust her,” head coach Shelly Klaes-Bawcombe told reporters after the game. “We appreciate her insight. We rely on her. She's got a great feel for the game and she thinks for us … She puts in the work you know she's out there on her own working on her skill set every day and I think that's why she's here today.”
Defensively, the Dukes’ zone caused havoc for the Tar Heels and played a key factor into UNC’s 13 turnovers on the day. JMU is the only team of the Final Four to run a zone on defense, which can play heavily to its advantage as the championship game approaches. In goal, redshirt freshman Molly Dougherty was tremendous yet again, boasting a 42.9 save percentage on nine total saves. She’s stepped up to the occasion after being thrown between the pipes for all 60 minutes in four straight games since the Dukes’ CAA Championship Game against Towson.
“You know she made some really great saves she had great positioning and we love her size and she's just mature beyond her years,” Klaes-Bawcombe told reporters after the game. “I mean she's a redshirt freshman and she's telling the defense to calm down. You know she's making great decisions off of saves and came up big on some eight meter saves.”
The only thing standing in the way of a Dukes national championship is the Eagles of Boston college, following its 15-13 victory over the No. 1 overall seed Maryland Terps. Led by junior attacker Sam Apuzzo and junior midfielder Dempsey Arsenault on offense, the Eagles rank 11th in the nation in scoring offense — the Dukes rank 12th — and seventh in draw controls per game — JMU ranks 33rd. With just one game standing in the way of a JMU championship, the team is ready to do what it takes to bring home the gold.
“I mean it's so surreal,” Gaudian told reporters after the game. “It's just an incredible feeling that I've always dreamed about doing. And this year has been just an incredible ride for us seniors. And I think that all of our hard work this whole season has finally been paying off and we're finally making a name for ourselves.”
Contact Blake Pace at email@example.com For more lacrosse coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.