As the clock ticked down, fans dressed in purple and gold rejoiced. Five, four, three, two, one … the Dukes rushed the field as JMU lacrosse earned the school’s fourth national title (I’m excluding archery because looking through old archery records and championships is making my mind spin) by beating Boston College 16-15 in a national championship bout that lived up to its billing. While JMU nation certainly embraced the team’s victory, how big a deal is it nationally that JMU lacrosse won it all?
It’s huge. Women’s lacrosse might not be the most popular sport in the country or among JMU’s fanbase, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the victory. The win marks the first time since 2004 that a team other than Northwestern, North Carolina or Maryland won the national title. In short, winning a national title puts JMU in an elite class of lacrosse programs.
There’s a difference between winning a national title once and being a consistently dominant national program like the three mentioned above, but JMU is in a position to be a national contender. The Dukes are led by Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, who’s taken the Dukes to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Klaes-Bawcombe is the winningest coach in JMU lacrosse history (151-75) and now has a national title to her name. While the program loses a bevy of talented seniors, Klaes-Bawcombe has enough pieces and the recruiting chops to add another year to JMU’s NCAA Tournament streak in 2019. Five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a national championship in that stretch put JMU in elite company. There’s no reason to believe Klaes-Bawcombe can’t keep JMU in a nationally-ranked position in the coming seasons.
JMU lacrosse’s victory also represents a rise in JMU’s athletic programs. Across the board, things are looking bright for the Dukes. Mike Houston has the football team as an FCS power with arguably his most talented roster in three years at the helm. Loren LaPorte finished an adversity filled first season by leading JMU softball to an NCAA Regional and a CAA regular season title. Christy Morgan has JMU field hockey on the brink of a national breakthrough. Lauren Steinbrecher’s volleyball Dukes are fresh off consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Sean O’Regan’s women’s basketball team carries an excess of talented rising juniors that are sure to keep the team in the CAA title conversation and NCAA Tournament picture for the next two years.
Not everything is perfect in the world of JMU sports (see men’s basketball and baseball) but nearly every program is trending in the right direction and has reason(s) for optimism. The Union Bank & Trust Center puts both basketball programs in a better position in terms of recruiting and should help bolster two of the school’s more prominent athletic teams.
JMU lacrosse winning the national championship doesn’t mean the university is now an SEC caliber athletic department. But the days of JMU being a mid-major might be numbered. The Dukes have phenomenal coaches, an athletic director in Jeff Bourne that boasts a strong track record of hiring coaches and one of the more passionate “mid-major” fanbases in the country.
Sunday’s national championship was a special day for JMU sports. Expect many more special days in the years to come.