Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 19 James Madison (Women)
The Dukes have a chip on their shoulder.
After falling to third-year program USC by three in the NCAA tournament, the reigning CAA champion returns with the firepower to bounce back.
James Madison is ranked No. 19 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Top 20.
James Madison at a Glance
2015 Record: 15-5
3 Big Things
1. The Dukes have renewed confidence.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
After finishing right around .500 out of the CAA the last three years, James took a leap back into the national picture with eight non-conference wins in 2015, highlighted by victories over Loyola and Penn State.
James Madison's 2015 season ended with a disappointing loss to USC in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, but it was still a successful campaign. A strong senior class had a mission last season — to win their first league title and avoid becoming the first team in nearly two decades at the school to miss that milestone.
"They were very aware of our history," said coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, herself a member of James Madison's 1997 CAA championship squad. "They were really focused and really driven. Our senior leadership really pulled that team together and got the whole team to buy in."
Those seniors are gone, but their impact is still evident. "We're confident again," said Klaes-Bawcombe. "The biggest thing I'm sensing is they're not satisfied."
The confidence is fueled in part by five of their top seven leading scorers returning, including Betsy Angel, who led the team with 70 points (49g goals, 21 assists) in 2015.
2. A defensive overhaul is necessary.
If James Madison is to repeat as CAA champions, it will have to successfully overhaul its defense. Junior goalie Emily Poelma played just 12 minutes last season and she's the only one of the three goalies on the roster with any collegiate experience. Three starters also graduated on defense, putting returning senior starter Carter Reifsnider in a critical role of providing leadership to the unit.
Klaes-Bawcombe thinks the veteran presence of seniors Emily Pillion and Alex Revel, combined with some young talent will allow the Duke to make the transition successfully.
3. Can they win enough draws when it matters?
It's not hard to find James Madison's trouble spot from a year ago — controlling draws in key games. The Dukes were dominated by USC 17-8 on the draw in their NCAA tournament loss. In losses to North Carolina and Maryland, James Madison also won less than a third of the draws.
"It was a reminder of how important possession is," Klaes-Bawcombe said. "We didn't have someone that could put it to themselves, and against all those self-draw specialists, we struggled to defend."
Klaes-Bawcombe likely will turn to Kristen Gaudian, 6-foot-2 sophomore Morgan Hardt and Haley Warden to take the draws. Brooks Lawler, who finished third on the team with 30 draw controls, also will be a key to the Dukes improving in this critical area.
Emily Poelma (Jr.)
* returning starters
Gordon will be the leader of the Dukes offense after leading the team with 22 assists last season while earning first team All-CAA honors. She also tallied 40 goals on lights-out 73-percent shooting and could see those numbers increase.
The Dukes suffered heavy defensive losses. Sdanowich — a “strong, stoic defender,” according to Klaes-Bawcombe — will be in the mix to make an impact. She was a US Lacrosse All-American at John Carroll (Md.).
Gaudian saw action in 14 games and finished with two goals and 10 draw controls. The former 300-goal scorer in high school will see an expanded role this season and should be ready to break out.
Biggest Question Mark
Goalie Schylar Healy had a great season with a save percentage above 46 percent. Whoever takes over for her will also play behind just one returning starter on that side of the field.
To get back to the NCAA tournament, James Madison needs to improve on the draw and coach Klaes-Bawcombe will be looking to several players to help make that happen, including 6-foot-2 sophomore Morgan Hardt. (John Strohsacker)
What rival coaches say about the Dukes
"Class of CAA."
"Can they bounce back from disappointing NCAA loss?"
"Plays with a chip on their shoulder."
James Madison's winning percentage on the draw in its five losses last season. It's critical the Dukes make some improvements in the midfield.
19 @ Rutgers
March 5 at Denver
The Dukes play a very tough schedule that includes games against Top 10 teams Maryland, North Carolina and Penn State. Those upsets might be out of reach this year, but an early trip to the Rockies will help James Madison gauge where it is in the national landscape.
James Madison has lost just five regular season games in the CAA over the last six years. With other teams around the league also losing key players, the Dukes are in the driver's seat to repeat as conference champions and return to the NCAA tournament.
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