For the first time in nearly three decades, there’s a new leader of JMU women’s soccer. After 28 years of leadership, Dave Lombardo retired last November with 415 career victories — making him the 12th winningest coach in the NCAA record books. New head coach Joshua Walters has big shoes to fill after succeeding Lombardo as just the second coach in the team’s history.
Under Lombardo, the Dukes won four conference titles and posted a winning record against CAA teams in 23 of 25 seasons with an overall record of 337-222-35. Despite a long stretch of success, JMU suffered back-to-back losing seasons in 2016 and 2017 for the first time in program history; overall, the Dukes won fewer than 10 games just five times since 1990.
“We love coach Lombardo, but it’s just a fresh start,” senior midfielder Hailey Stein said. “It’s a whole new style that we’re doing and it’s a whole new experience for a lot of us. It’s refreshing, it’s nice to try something new.”
The program is undergoing a significant and unprecedented transition, but hopes are high for 2018 and beyond. Walters explained why he’s thrilled to be at JMU and why he left a perennial top-10 team to pursue this opportunity in Harrisonburg.
“I’d followed the [JMU] program some,” Walters said. “Everybody knows Dave, he’s a freakin’ legend around here, a legend in the soccer world and in Harrisonburg. When I started researching [JMU], I fell in love with it … the town, the facilities, there’s so much within the school like the quality of education, the location in Virginia, and I looked at it and said, ‘How could I turn this job down?’”
Walters spent the last five years as the recruiting coordinator for UCLA women’s soccer — a program that made the NCAA tournament in four of his five years as well as the national quarterfinals three times. In his time with the Bruins, Walters assembled the nation’s top recruiting class in 2016 and the No. 2 class in 2017.
“I think no matter where you are, [recruiting] is about relationships,” Walters said. “If you can build relationships with coaches and players, it goes a long way … We’ve already had some success on the recruiting trails for ’19 and ’22, we’ve got kids coming from all over the country right now. I’m excited about the direction and what I think we can do.”
It’s clear Walters is an excellent recruiter, but he aims to bring more than just elite players to Harrisonburg. He’s learned something at every step of his coaching career and is eager to implement his long-term vision for the JMU program starting this season.
“I’ve had an opportunity to coach at a lot of different places,” Walters said. “I’ve taken bits and pieces from all these places in this culmination of a lot of good programs: UCF, Florida State, UCLA. I’m able to stack all these things together and look at it, so I think I have a big portfolio and a lot of ideas.”
JMU’s preseason conditioning program was vastly different from years past, especially for the juniors and seniors used to conventional drills. Players explained how JMU is now working smarter, not harder, since the team’s fitness is “within what they do,” meaning they condition through game simulations instead of monotonous drills.
“It’s been really different. We haven’t been just out there running sprints,” Stein said. “What
we’re doing now is high-press, and that’s fitness in itself. Every single practice we see how much we work.”
Walters brings a fresh voice and a new approach to the locker room, but this program is merely looking to refresh, not restart. He made clear that Lombardo’s legacy and fingerprints will remain on the program even though the former coach is no longer on the sidelines.
“Dave coached for 28 years and had a lot of success,” Walters said. “Anything I can learn from him is great. He’s really good about letting this be me now and letting me be here, but I know he’s there any second I want to call him. He helped me understand the players right off the bat, he had a very detailed list of every player and what they were capable of.”
The Dukes have a long way to go, but the team is aiming to work toward something special under Walters, even if the scoreboard and standings don’t show it yet. JMU is set up to succeed in the future, but the senior leadership believes the future starts now.
“I’m looking forward to a CAA championship,” Stein said. “I think we have great chemistry. These non-conference games are getting us ready for that and I think we have it in us.”
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.