2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 12 James Madison (Women)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Katie Checkosky ranks 10th in James Madison history in assists (62).


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 12 JAMES MADISON

2021 Record: 12-5 (3-1 CAA)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 15
Coach: Shelley Klaes (16th season)

The conversation never seems to center on James Madison. At least not until April or May, when the Dukes inevitably notch a signature win or begin yet another push into the postseason.

This season, though, for better or worse, JMU will be talked about for its uncertain future.

James Madison joined the Sun Belt Conference in early November, a move bent to bolster its football program. The move to the Sun Belt will increase university funding from the state, according to Shelley Klaes, which is inherently a boon to the lacrosse program.

Unfortunately, the move comes at the expense of JMU’s membership in the CAA. The Dukes will not be allowed to compete for the CAA championship this spring, meaning their only route to another NCAA tournament berth is through an at-large bid.

“Right now, I feel like I’m a part of a divorced family,” Klaes said. “I don’t have control with of the relationships between the athletic directors and the commissioners.

“I’m disappointed that the bylaws protected football and not any other sport, considering this was a move for football. … Football drives conference alignment and money.”

An at-large bid shouldn’t be all that difficult for the Dukes to grasp. Klaes has scheduled another rigorous gauntlet of national powers, starting with North Carolina in the season opener on Feb. 12. The schedule also features UConn, Rutgers, Virginia, Maryland and Drexel, all teams in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

It’s a calculated schedule. James Madison yet again boasts a roster worthy of competing for the conference championship, even if that’s not in the cards this year. It all starts with Molly Dougherty, who started 12 games as a redshirt-freshman on JMU’s 2018 national championship team. She’s one of the few holdovers left from that squad, naturally putting Dougherty in a leadership position behind a defense featuring an All-American candidate in Rachel Matey.

And while the defense will likely be what carries James Madison, there’s a buzz around the offense. Katie Checkosky, Katie Knobloch, Emma Greenhill and Isabella Peterson are the knowns, Klaes has an underrated star ready to blossom in Lizzy Fox.

“Everyone’s careers are different. She had to overcome a shoulder injury, so maybe in her underclass years, that was a challenge,” Klaes said. “She had to get her ball-handling skills and confidence and stamina back.”

She scored the biggest goal of JMU’s season in the CAA championship game, finishing off Drexel in overtime — the fruits of her labor with assistant coach Haley Warden.

“Lizzy was recruited to be a goal scorer,” Klaes said. “When she scored that OT goal, she turned the corner.

“She had been put on that mark in practice time after time with the opportunity to win the game, but she didn’t achieve that [until the game against Drexel].”

And that’s a paragon for the James Madison spirit. Going back to that 2018 season, even as fans and pundits counted the Dukes out well into the national championship game, Klaes’ squad executed when it mattered.

So even though James Madison’s CAA residency is essentially over, the Dukes are still motivated to what it takes to get things done. Even if the future is murky.

“We had been pushing this program’s identity beyond the conference already,” Klaes said. “We want to be more than just the best of the CAA. That mentality was already trying to be influenced within the program. This is an opportunity for us to prove that.”







TOP RETURNERS

Molly Dougherty, G, R-Sr.

The hero of May’s CAA championship game, Dougherty is again back to provide veteran leadership, a steady presence on defense and a sprinkle of fun, too. An exuberant personality coupled with a unflappable game face makes Dougherty arguably the most valuable player on the Dukes. In 2021, she posted her third straight season with at least a 50 percent save percentage (50.6 percent) and saved 135 shots.

Rachel Matey, D, R-Jr.

A third-team USA Lacrosse Magazine Preseason All-American, Matey is No. 16 in program history in draw controls (104), and she’ll continue to climb that list. A first-team All-CAA contributor, Matey played in the midfield and on defense but really settled into a role defensively. She posted 22 points and 19 ground balls with a career-high 62 draw controls.

Kacey Knobloch, A, R-Jr.

A team captain in 2021, Knobloch is a true leader who Klaes leans on to right the ship. She posted 25 goals and 21 assists as a redshirt-sophomore, and although her shooting percentage was a career-low 32.5 percent, it’s clear that she’s an aggressive shooter who can create opportunities for herself. Expect a more efficient season in 2022.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Lizzy Fox, M, R-Jr.

“People don’t know Lizzy Fox,” Klaes said. Until she scored in overtime to beat Drexel in the CAA championship game, Klaes was right. But her name made its way through the airwaves after that goal, and Klaes is expecting an all-out breakout from the midfielder this year. Fox thrives when she takes risks, and Klaes saw a burden lifted from her shoulders after scoring that goal. If she can play free and loose, Fox is in for a big year.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Dukes:

“They play with a chip on their shoulder. They love JMU and each other and play with a fire. That is really hard to contain. Starting strong always goes a long way. They never give up and they never go away. I love the fight of the Dukes, and they have talented players sprinkled all around the field.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

53.7%

Behind a very strong season from Molly Dougherty, the Dukes boasted the third-best opponent-adjusted save percentage in the nation. JMU didn’t turn away opponents very much, so having a brick wall in goal was key to posting the fourth-best opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. — Zack Capozzi

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