'Fearless' JMU Gained Confidence in Close Battle with Team USA

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Freshman attacker Kacey Knobloch got JMU on the board to kick off its battle with the U.S. women's national team Saturday at the Team USA Fall Classic.


Entering the Team USA Fall Classic, James Madison coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe was fielding numerous questions regarding her team’s identity in 2019 after her team’s first-ever national championship in 2018.

“So many questions coming into the game [were] fired at me about who we are, and to be honest, we don’t know who we are yet,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “This is our first competitive opportunity.”

The Dukes stunned the lacrosse world with wins over Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Boston College to claim last year’s NCAA Division I crown. But they enter the spring without their star seniors, including Tewaaraton finalist Kristen Gaudian, who traded in her purple and gold for the red, white and blue on Saturday. She was one of 10 college graduates from the 2018 season that played with the U.S. women’s national team for the event on Tierney Field.

With Gaudian’s graduation, James Madison lost their leader in goals and points. Assist leader Katie Kerrigan, draw specialist Haley Warden, who also topped the charts in caused turnovers, and its scrappiest player in Elena Romesburg, who tallied the most ground balls, also donned caps and gowns. Also missing were senior defensive stalwarts in Corinne Schmidt and Rebecca Tooker.

JMU, which just started full-field drills last week, welcomed 10 freshmen to replace a program-changing senior class with hopes of grooming the Dukes back into a national championship contender.

Facing Team USA, Klaes-Bawcombe was unsure of her team’s abilities in the midfield, losing its top three players in draw controls (Warden, Gaudian and Romesburg). She also questioned the Dukes’ speed and stick skills in comparison with the nation’s top players, as she said they had been “rambunctious” in their first few fall ball practices, failing to finish shots.

But to many people’s surprise, including the Dukes themselves, JMU played toe-to-toe with Team USA in a 14-10 loss over five periods.

“Coming out and performing the way that we did today is going to let them let last year go a little bit quicker so they can focus on what this team can be,” Klaes-Bawcombe said.

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

The James Madison sideline gets pumped up as it gains the lead against Team USA.

Here’s why James Madison is feeling confident for the 2019 season:

1. The Dukes did not focus on the result.

James Madison recorded just one loss in 2018, 15-12 to 2017 NCAA champion Maryland. Despite having a one-goal edge in the second half against the Terps, the Dukes never saw a lead in their favor except four minutes into the game.

When the Dukes focus on the scoreboard, rather than their play, they dig themselves a hole. Thinking of a tough opponent more than their own team dynamic also causes a shift in mentality. When playing Team USA, a hand-picked roster featuring the best players in the country including NCAA champions, Tewaaraton winners and gold medalists, Klaes-Bawcombe made it clear from the get-go that the end result wasn’t the focus.

“Historically, this is a tough game,” she told Lax Sports Network. “I didn’t want to focus on the result. We’ve never been good when we do that. I think it creates performance pressure. More so, what feedback can we get? How can we maximize this opportunity today? When we focus on the process and how we’re going to do that, we play loose, we play free and we put a great product out on the field.”

With their eyes off the scoreboard, the Dukes assisted on 60 percent of their goals and out-hustled Team USA on ground balls, winning the battle 26-21.

“We have retained speed, we retained lacrosse IQ and we’re a total team sharing the ball over the field,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “It’s being able to understand what you’re capable of instead of focusing on your playing. … We shared the ball better than I thought we might in the first play action that we had this year, considering we really did graduate quite a bit.”

"I was really impressed with JMU," added Team USA midfielder Taylor Cummings. "They did not come out fearful or scared. They came out like the defending national champions.

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Freshman midfielder Mairead Durkin squares off with Team USA's Taylor Cummings on the draw.







2. The freshmen stepped up.

The 10-player freshman class features seven midfielders, the position with the biggest question mark for JMU. One of them, Rachel Matey, earned a spot in the starting lineup and five more saw playing time between the restraining lines – Mairead Durkin, Lizzy Fox, Madison Money, Emma Greenhill and Ava Frantz. Plus, three more freshmen made their debut on Tierney Field – defender Lilly Byrne, attacker Kacey Knobloch and goalie Kat Buchanan.

With a four-goal game and nine freshmen getting playing time against Team USA, that’s promising for the Dukes. Three freshmen scored goals, including Knobloch, who found the back of the net 11:30 into the game for JMU’s only goal in the first quarter.

“A bunch of them played today and showed out today, and they played great,” senior attacker Hanna Haven told Lax Sports Network. “Our first goal today was scored by a freshman, so we’re excited to see what the newcomers have for us.”

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Freshman Kacey Knobloch scored JMU's first goal of the game with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter.

3. The third quarter sparked optimism.

Entering the second quarter trailing 3-1, Haven and Charlotte Haggerty, the latter who led the Dukes with a hat trick, scored back-to-back goals to knot it at three at the 6:03 mark. After Team USA responded with two goals of its own to regain the lead, Money cut it back to one with a goal for JMU with just 10 seconds left, fueling the Dukes with confidence going into halftime.

Junior Logan Brennan and Haggerty tallied the first two scores of the third quarter for the advantage, which was followed by Team USA’s lone goal of the period for another tie. Then, again, a last-second shot under pressure, this time from junior Halle Duenkel, handed the Dukes’ a 7-6 lead as the buzzer sounded.

For the first time all game, James Madison led twice in the third quarter.

“We were not expecting that whatsoever,” Haven told Lax Sports Network. “That was an awesome experience.”

It was then a back-and-forth battle in the fourth quarter with Haggerty securing JMU’s final lead of the game, 9-8, with 5:37 remaining. However, Gaudian tied it with 2:40 to play before Emily Garrity Parros scored once more for the U.S. with 43 seconds left. If the game ended after four quarters, the Dukes would have lost by just one.

“Once they gained their confidence and realized they were competing, I think they started to play a little more fearless and that’s when we started getting a lot of goals,” Klaes-Bawcombe said.

“I’m really impressed with our team’s resilience,” Klaes-Bawcombe then told Lax Sports Network after the game. “We did what it took to be in the game. ... I’m excited about the future for the Dukes.”

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Freshman Ava Frantz celebrates scoring a goal that handed James Madison an 8-7 lead at the 9:14 mark in the fourth quarter.

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