Fall Ball Focus: After Feeling 'Exposed' in NCAA Tournament, JMU Back to Basics

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

JMU head coach Shelley Klaes said Lizzy Fox is a breakout candidate for 2023.


Fall scores are essentially meaningless. The scoreboard, in most cases, merely serves as a timer. That didn’t stop James Madison head coach Shelley Klaes from being pleased with her team’s unofficial 10-6 win over Maryland Saturday at Towson’s Tiger Field.

“At this point in the season, we’re all only a few practices in,” Klaes said. “It’s hard to take too much from these games, but we used everyone, and I thought we competed hard. We were in the game the whole time, and in the end, we did what it took to close out.”

Closing out will be a key theme this spring for James Madison, which bookended its 2022 season with disappointing performances. A 3-4 start included losses to non-NCAA tournament teams in Virginia Tech and Penn State. The season’s end came at the hands of Loyola in an 18-8 drubbing. Mairead Durkin said JMU was “exposed” in that game.

“I think we got tired,” Klaes said, acknowledging that five or six JMU players fought cramps during the Dukes’ first-round win over UConn. “I think that the Friday-Sunday format, we got exposed in that. Looking back, maybe we should have made some adjustments with our strategies to maybe not play a run-and-gun style and maybe hold possession a little bit more. Loyola really took it to us.”

It's a live-and-learn situation for Klaes, who is now in her 17th season in charge of JMU. A new offensive coach, Colleen Shearer, brings a new fundamental-based approach, and after last year’s disappointing finish, both stick work and fitness were the summer’s focus.

“We’re really just trying to get these girls off of COVID, those two years when they didn’t have access to gyms,” Klaes said. “We just didn’t feel like we were in as good of form as we had been in the past. Those are the two things we really focused on this summer.”

A young offense and new starting goalie (who has yet to be named) will be anchored by a core of returners as James Madison looks to assert itself as a factor in the American Athletic Conference in its first season since leaving the CAA.

LAST SEASON

James Madison started 3-4 before finishing the regular season on a 10-game winning streak that included a victory over national semifinalist Maryland. An NCAA tournament first-round win over UConn would be the last time the Dukes tasted victory, as Loyola ousted them 18-8 two days later.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

Who replaces long-time goalie Molly Dougherty?

As a redshirt-freshman in 2018, Molly Dougherty anchored James Madison’s national championship run. She went on to start 71 games for the Dukes, finishing seventh in program history with 472 saves. She’s since graduated (and joined Princeton as an assistant coach), leaving Klaes with options in the crease.

Kat Buchanan is a fifth-year option who’s been waiting in the wings. In just over 252 minutes spread across 18 career games, she’s stopped 50.9 percent of shots (27 saves). Caitlin Boden is another option as a freshman netminder coming in as an All-American out of Sacred Heart Academy (N.Y.).

“They’re going to have to duke it out,” Klaes said. “I think we have two really phenomenal goalies.”

MARQUEE ADDITION: MADISON EPKE

A 5-8 freshman from Guildford, Conn., Madison Epke is ready to take part in what’s expected to be a young James Madison offense. Klaes has deployed Epke on the crease thus far and has been impressed with her ability to generate offense and score. She’s also a backup draw option to Isabella Peterson.

Also look out for Josie Pell, a freshman midfielder from Catonsville, Md., who graduated from Glenelg Country (Md.). “She’s got the IQ and the physicality,” Klaes said.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: LIZZY FOX

The time is now for Lizzy Fox. The redshirt-senior midfielder has yet to truly capitalize on her potential, having been hampered by a slew of injuries during her time in Harrisonburg. She notably scored the overtime goal to beat Drexel in the CAA title game in 2021 and totaled 11 goals with four assists last season.

“We’ve always been wanting her to be more hungry, but I think it’s the stickwork. With Colleen’s tutelage, she’s doing the work,” Klaes said. “I’m excited to see what she can do in her fifth year. She had been hurt a little bit along the way, but she’s finally feeling like her 100-percent self.”

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