When JMU lacrosse (19-1, 6-0 CAA) takes the field on Saturday, the Dukes will face a foe of equal caliber. The Florida Gators (17-3, 9-0 Big East) come to town Saturday with one of the nation’s top rosters and a No. 6 seed to their name. Beating Florida will be anything but easy for one of the best JMU teams in program history. With that being said, the Dukes possess the talent to earn a berth in the NCAA Semifinals. Here’s what JMU needs to do to step even closer to a national title.
1. Don’t fret an early deficit
The Gators scored first in all three of their losses this season. Florida held a 3-0 lead over the CAA’s second-best team in Towson before the Tigers were able to rally back for a 14-11 victory. In fact, Towson went on a 10-1 run to take a commanding 10-4 lead before holding on for the win. I’m not saying JMU should try to start slowly, but the Dukes shouldn’t panic if they fall behind early, and neither should their fans. The Dukes trailed 2-0 and 4-2 against Virginia last weekend before grinding out a win. It doesn’t need to be pretty Saturday, the Dukes just need to survive and advance. That means playing a full 60 minutes, even if the first 15 or so don’t go their way.
2. Limit turnovers
Both teams rank in the top 10 nationally in shot percentage, meaning that when they shoot they tend to score at a high rate. The Dukes rank second nationally by scoring on 50.6 percent of their shots, while the Gators cash in 48.1 percent of the time, which is good for eighth in the country. Both teams also rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense.
What does all of this mean? It means there’s going to be a lot of goals, and both teams are efficient when it comes to turning shots into goals. I think this game is going to be played somewhere in the 14-18 range, with the winner getting just a few extra shots on goal thanks to a smaller number of turnovers. If the Dukes can win the turnover battle, even if it’s by the slimmest of margins, I like their chances.
3. Lean on the seniors
JMU is the No. 3 seed in this tournament because of its seniors. Whether it’s Katie Kerrigan, Haley Warden, Elena Romesburg or Kristen Gaudian, the Dukes have one of the nation’s best senior classes. In the win against Virginia, the quartet scored 11 goals to go along with four assists. For JMU to knock off Florida, they’ll need that group to score well over 10 goals. The Gators haven’t scored less than 11 in a game all season and have scored at least 15 goals in 10 of their last 11 games (all victories). Florida can score. JMU needs its seniors to put together one of their better scoring performances of the season to advance.
Prediction: JMU 17, Florida 16
If you’re in the Harrisonburg area Saturday, go to this game. These are two of the top teams in the entire country and both teams own remarkably talented offenses. I expect a boatload of scoring, and the home crowd to give JMU the boost it needs to lift itself into the NCAA Semifinals.