Title IX in Action
We Are JMU
2018 Women's Lacrosse National Champions
JMU (16) vs Boston College (15)
May 27, 2018
Article by Leigh Ernst Friestedt and Ellie Majure
"We Are JMU"
On Sunday May 27, 2018, James Madison University (“JMU”) defeated Boston College (“BC”) 16-15 to capture its first NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship. The game marked the end of an outstanding Final Four Tournament at LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, NY over Memorial Day weekend.
The Dukes’ Road to the Final Four followed the classic underdog story – a team overlooked by many believes in itself; plays as a team with a strong, shared identity; and ultimately clinches the victory, thus proving everyone wrong.
In response to waves of doubt from the lacrosse world after JMU beat UNC in the regular season, Head Coach, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, stated that JMU would play anybody, anytime, anywhere to prove that it was the best team in the country. She believed that if given the opportunity, her program could beat the top teams and win a national championship. The Dukes lived up their coach’s statements and expectations and proved that they were “unbreakable“.
JMU entered the NCAA Tournament as the #3 seed with a 19-1 record, having only lost to Maryland in the regular season. Despite this outstanding record, many thought JMU was seeded too high and would probably not make it past UVA, its first game after receiving a bye in the first round. However, JMU defeated UVA, Florida and UNC, earning the opportunity to play Boston College for the national title.
- Second Round: JMU (15) vs UVA (12)
- Quarter Finals: JMU (11) vs Florida (8)
- Semi Finals: JMU (15) vs UNC (12)
- Finals: JMU (16) vs Boston College (15)
50 Years Strong
As Head Coach, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, explained in the post-game press conference, “JMU just had what it took to win the game. Fifty years strong.” To everyone else, JMU’s road to the Final Four and a National Championship seemed like a long shot, but for the Dukes, their success was the culmination of fifty years of hard work, perseverance and the will to win.
JMU just had what it took to win the game. Fifty years strong!
Hard work, grit and leadership guided the 2018 Dukes to their first national title. But behind their success stands a long history of commitment by the school, the coaches and the student-athletes to create a top women’s lacrosse program. The 2018 Dukes were more than just a team of 33 girls. They were a program 50 years strong, and the team’s understanding of the history of the program is headed by Klaes-Bawcombe herself.
JMU’s victory over UNC in the Semi-Finals marked Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe’s 200th career win as a coach (including Hofstra 2002-2006) and 150th win as a coach at JMU (2007-2018). Her 2018 season is filled with impressive accomplishments, and punctuated with a national title, but Coach Klaes-Bawcombe fully credits her successes to those around her:
Head Coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe
Klaes-Bawcombe has spent decades adding to the JMU Women’s Lacrosse program as both a student-athlete (she is a former two-time All-American) and a coach. The cornerstone of JMU’s success, Klaes-Bawcombe embodies the “We Are JMU” mentality. She connects the program’s past to its present by grounding her players with a mindset of pride and trust in both each other and the program as a whole.
“When we walk on the field, we’re proud of our work and we’re proud of each other and we have a great deal of trust in each other… that mentality was something that I learned at JMU and it’s something I want to give back to my athletes and it works. It’s just about embracing your situation and giving yourself the best possible solution for your path in life.”
JMU Nation is the system of parents, friends and fans who rally around the JMU Women’s Lacrosse Team. JMU Nation showed up in full support of its team for the whole 2018 season and Final Four campaign.
A Simple Mindset - One Game at a Time
Rather than allow themselves to zone in on the National Championship all year, the Dukes narrowed their focus to a simpler view. One game at a time, the Dukes chipped away at the season. One draw at a time, one defensive stop at a time, one save at a time, one goal at a time the Dukes inched further down the road to Championship Weekend. This simple mindset helped the Dukes to stay focused and play well under pressure in big games.
JMU made it look easy by simplifying the game and staying focused on the moment. The Dukes played like they love the game of lacrosse – whether they were on the field or on the sidelines supporting their teammates. Higher stakes could neither phase nor break JMU. The Dukes’ fighting spirit and simple mentality allowed them to embrace the moment and raise their level of play.
Coach Klaes-Bawcombe encouraged her players to let go of mistakes in the past and to instead focus on the opportunities in front of them. She encouraged them to trust themselves and their teammates to not let mistakes determine the outcome of games – to play with an “unselfish work ethic”. This gave the Dukes the freedom to play fearlessly and without hesitation, to take risks, to be confident and to be flexible. While many top teams play in fear of making a mistake, the Dukes establish a network of trust and confidence to guide their team through any challenges they encounter on the field.
JMU made it look so easy to win a national championship because for the Dukes it was just another game. Credit goes to Head Coach, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, for instilling confidence in her players to let them play a game they love without the pressure of making a mistake, to enjoy the moment and be proud of everything they accomplished as a team, to make it the Final Four and to ultimately win a national championship.
The Underdog Mentality
JMU slammed open the doors of its 2018 season with a big win against UNC, but it would take weeks for the polls to reflect this victory. Many thought it was a fluke. Heading into the NCAA Tournament JMU was 19-1, having only lost to Maryland 12-15 at College Park. The Dukes performance earned them the #3 seed for the NCAA Tournament which many questioned as being high but the Dukes used the scoreboard to set the record straight.
The Dukes played with conviction, confidence and teamwork to earn their national title. They played with love for the game of lacrosse and without fear of making mistakes. The 2018 JMU Women’s Lacrosse Team believed in itself and in the strength of its program. Led by Klaes-Bawcombe, each individual member of the team set aside her own personal doubts and fears and let herself believe in the team. Even when the rest of the lacrosse world refused to believe in JMU Lacrosse, the Dukes held on to their faith, and they came away with a National Championship Title.
Attack Firing on All Cylinders
JMU’s attack came out firing in the Championship Game against Boston College with four unassisted goals in the first eleven minutes. Three players scored hat tricks in the Championship Game: Hanna Haven, Elena Romesberg and Kristen Guadian. Haley Warden scored four goals, Morgan Hardt came off the bench to score two in the early minutes of the game and Maddie McDaniel added another. Katie Kerrigan played a key role with four assists to round out the attack.
Apuzzo vs Warden
Two of the top players in women’s lacrosse – Sam Apuzzo (BC) and Haley Warden(JMU) – faced off against each other in the Championship Game. Apuzzo had an outstanding game with three goals, four assists and eight draw controls. Boston College and Apuzzo dominated the draw controls with 20 compared to JMU’s 13, but the Eagles were not able to capitalize on these key possessions and failed to score off the draw.
Boston College’s top midfielder, Dempsey Arsenault, matched up against Warden, but even Arsenault could not stop Warden from scoring four goals in the Championship game.
JMU switched up the draw in the second half with Kristen Gaudian stepping in to take several against Apuzzo. But Sam Apuzzo and Dempsey Arsenault continued to dominate the draw for Boston College. They secured eight possessions each in the game.
Sam Apuzzo - Tewaaraton Award
Although Boston College did not take home the national title, Sam Apuzzo and her teammates had an outstanding game. Apuzzo scored three goals with four assists and eight draw controls in the Championship Game – stats that warranted the selection of Apuzzo as the recipient of the 2018 Tewaaraton Award.
Sam Apuzzo earned the prestigious Tewaaraton Award for the 2018 season as an all-around great player. Apuzzo is a multi-dimensional player who performs at the highest level at all ends of the field – attack, midfield and defense. While Apuzzo is technically an attacker, she takes the draws recording over 100 this season, rides opposing teams on defense as they try to break the ball out and will mark top midfielders on defense.
JMU's Zone Defense
The JMU defense is a zone made up of experienced players. These returning defenders have developed together the outstanding communication skills that enable them to work together as a cohesive unit. This experience also allows the Dukes to read situations quickly, anticipate plays, slide seamlessly and shut down top attackers with and without implementing a face guard.
The JMU defensive pressure forced Boston College to make 18 turnovers, many of which the Dukes were able to turn into goals at the other end. But JMU’s defensive stance was not solely located on its defensive end. The Dukes’ attackers did an outstanding job riding Boston College’s clearing defenders and forced their own key turnovers in the midfield.
Boston College’s uncharacteristic 18 turnovers gave JMU the room it needed to make up for the differential in draw controls. The Eagles’ mistakes created JMU possessions, and the Dukes capitalized on the vast majority of these extra opportunities. JMU’s full-field defensive pressure not only awarded the Dukes bonus possessions, but it shorted BC’s momentum.
The Dukes’ zone defense anticipated plays and slid seamlessly to disrupt the Boston College attack, coming up with huge stops at key moments of a game. Where many zones fail is in covering cutters inside the 8m, but the Dukes’ communication and experience closed the gaps the BC attackers were looking for on the inside. With most of their cutting and dodging looks taken away, the Eagles found themselves forcing shots from tough angles as the possession clock wound down, many of which were easy saves for JMU’s goalie, Molly Dougherty (#33).
Corinne Schmidt - Two Yellow Cards
JMU lost top its defender, Corinne Schmidt, early in the second half when she received her second yellow card. Head Coach, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, consoled an upset Schmidt on the sidelines and kept the team mentally focused. Schmidt stepped up to support her team from the bench where many of her teammates who get limited playing time make valuable contributions every game. While the penalty could have thrown the Dukes off balance and set them back, they stayed mentally tough, took the penalty in stride and used it as motivation to step up their level of play and win the game for the senior teammate on the sidelines.
Schmidt remained focused and positive on the sidelines to support her teammates through the second half and cheer them on to victory.
Molly Dougherty in Goal
Molly Dougherty earned the starting role in the cage midway though the season–after redshirting her freshman year after her second labrum tear hip surgery. Molly was called to action in the UNC game recording 8 saves to help lead her team to victory but it was not until the Drexel game that she earned the role as starting goalie. From there Molly’s confidence grew, and she developed over the season with the support of her teammates and coaches. Heading into the Final Four, Molly was acting as a leader in goal with the full backing of a great defense who was poised to win a National Championship.
All it Takes is One Stop
A key part of JMU’s season-long success was to take everything one play at a time. Regardless of any mistakes, Coach Shelly instilled in her team the importance of focusing on the next opportunity, to never give up and to stay true to who they are — We Are JMU.
JMU was led by an outstanding Senior class: Kristen Gaudian, Corinne Schmidt, Katie Kerrigan, Rebecca Tooker, Haley Warden and Elena Romesburg. The six worked hard over the course of their careers at JMU to lead their team to a national title. Their experience and leadership both on and off the field was key to the Dukes’ success.
These seniors made sure that the slogans “We Are JMU” and “50 Strong” were not solely applied to playing lacrosse. They knew that a team without trust and respect off the field cannot be successful on the field. They urged their teammates to break down the social hierarchy that many other teams structure themselves in. Rather, these seniors created a system where all teammates were encouraged to be themselves, together–one small part of 50 strong.
From the very beginning of the season, the very beginning of the year, this senior class’s goal was to win the national championship. They played in the moment–without getting caught looking forward and without getting stuck in the past–and expected their younger teammates to do the same. They knew what it would take to accomplish their goal, and they did it.
Celebrating a National Championship
For 50 years, the JMU Women’s Lacrosse Program built the foundation for the team that would ultimately win the program’s first national championship. The school found the right coaches, built the right facilities and provided the student-athletes with the resources they needed to succeed. Coaches recruited the right student-athletes, created an environment where the players could excel and taught them to value hard work and what it means to be a team. Backed by these 50 years, the JMU Women’s Lacrosse Teammates of 2018 banded together and did what no one else thought they could do–they won themselves and their program their first national championship.
Future of Women's Lacrosse
JMU made history by winning the 2018 Women’s Lacrosse Championship, but the game also made a strong statement about the growth of the sport. Since 2004, only Northwestern, UNC, and Maryland have laid claim to the title of national champion. Not only did JMU break this streak, none of these three schools faced the Dukes’ as opponents. Rather, Boston College, another untitled team played them.
Women’s lacrosse is growing and changing. No longer are the best recruits and coaches located only in a few select schools. With rules changes, the sport is becoming faster and more dynamic, opening the gates for a variety of athletes to participate.
Women’s lacrosse has also expanded to 115 Division I women’s lacrosse programs, outpacing the 70 Division I men’s programs due to universities’ efforts to meet Title IX compliance. New rules in women’s lacrosse continue to make the game more exciting for the fans to watch and for the players to compete in. Overall, the level of play and caliber of female athletes playing lacrosse continues to expand and is a huge testament to the future of women’s lacrosse.