They may seem small in number, but the Dukes are mighty.
JMU softball gained a new following after clinching its first Women’s College World Series (WCWS) appearance and making itself a threat in every aspect. From dominating Regionals and Super Regionals to breaking the internet with the 4-3 upset win over No. 1 Oklahoma, the Dukes have made JMU Nation proud.
The journey behind redshirt senior pitcher Odicci Alexander's early beginnings has grown into a storyline fans have come to adore. The narrative about her grandfather reminds fans of the importance of a support system, and JMU is filled with that.
While the loss of game one against Oklahoma added a heightened uncertainty to the Dukes’ night, the team’s family, friends and fans remain undeterred. LeeAnn Jubas, redshirt junior infielder Sara Jubas’ mother, said that even with a loss out of game one against OU, the Dukes have proven their place on the national stage.
“I’m really proud of the girls. I mean, they have come to the stage of their dreams, playing the games of their lives with a team that they love — what could be better than that?” Jubas said. “If anyone thought that they didn’t deserve to be here, I think they’re proving that they’re as good as the other teams here.”
Everyone focuses on the players’ emotions during a monumental moment — but family is just as emotional. Behind every player is a personal network of support who cheers the loudest. These are the ones who’ve been there since the beginning. For redshirt senior infielder Madison Naujokas, her support group included Theresa Scully, a close family friend who’s watched her grow over the years to get to this moment.
“This has always been [Naujokas]’ dream,” Scully said. “She’s always been the softball girl, so it’s a literal dream to be here regardless of what happens.”
It seemed impossible to think JMU would earn the “Cinderella story” title, and that redshirt senior pitcher Odicci Alexander would become a breakout star to start off the postseason. Yet, the Dukes find themselves nationally trending every time they step on the field. The team has gained fans from multiple different schools, and some have traveled to Oklahoma City to support the Dukes in person.
Even with the game one loss, the Dukes’ fans are confident in the team’s ability to pull out wins, including the necessary victory in game two against Oklahoma to advance. Keith Short, redshirt senior outfielder Kate Gordon’s fiance, pointed to the fact that the Dukes haven’t yet been beaten twice in a row. And, as Scott Bernett, a JMU fan, said, “These girls are amazing. I hope that they don’t let this loss affect their play and the finish of this because I think we’re [going to] take it.”
College softball fan Lelia Thrasher, whose loyalties are with Louisiana State University, began following the Dukes after the 2016 matchup between JMU and LSU. Though the Dukes lost that match, Thrasher said, the fight JMU put up piqued her interest enough to begin following the team. She’d have come to Oklahoma City anyway — her daughter plays for Alabama — but Sunday, she was a JMU fan all the way.
“I’ve been following them through Regionals and Super Regionals and was impressed with their fight,” Thrasher said. “This team is like an underdog, and I’ve always had support for any team in an underdog position.”
Even former softball players, both from and outside JMU, have taken on the purple and gold. Sierra Lawrence, former Michigan softball outfielder (’16), joined the bandwagon and came to support JMU. Having experience in the WCWS, she praised the Dukes for how they’ve handled the pressure and played with confidence so far.
“What I’ve watched from them this season, I have all the confidence in them,” Lawrence said. “I know what the stakes and what the excitement is like, and I know they can handle it.”
Outside of new fans, the JMU family is still tighter than ever seen. Parents lined the pathways to congratulate the roster before boarding the bus, and for several of them, the Dukes’ position in the WCWS is already a victory regardless of the scored outcome. To Heran Choi, redshirt junior outfielder Michelle Sullivan’s mother, the Dukes have “already won” just by making a place for themselves in Oklahoma City.
“They have every capability to bounce back and win this whole thing,” Choi said. “I think it’s just hard for me to say because I feel like they’ve already won. In my mind, no matter what happens today, they won. I don’t even want to think about the outcome because they’re winners.”
The love and support has been surrounding the team since they began this journey, but the national attention has proven to be an ace in the stands. It’s been a part of the team’s success, and it’s why the team’s energy has increased as the journey continues.
“I think it’s the family and friends here making the difference,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of alumni, including some of the original team, along with family and friends and fans.”
For Dukes fans, seeing their girls live the dream in the WCWS is already enough — more wins are an added, and highly desirable, bonus. If JMU comes out on top over Oklahoma in game two and goes to the championship series, they’ll already be making history. If the Dukes go to the series and win it all, history is made again. But as games go on, the Dukes’ fans are setting their focus on their pride in the players: the fight the Dukes have displayed, the name they’ve made for themselves and the history they’ve already made.
“If they win and go on, that’s absolutely fantastic,” Jubas said. “If they play the same way they did today and Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the country, beats them, as the parent, OK, they made it way further than they thought they would — it’s fantastic … No matter what they do, I’m proud of every girl.”