HARRISONBURG — James Madison and Stony Brook have never met on the lacrosse field, but just seeing the Seawolves on the screen Sunday night as the bracket was announced for the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament had to bring back some pleasant memories for the Dukes.
It was a year ago when JMU opened up the 2018 NCAA Tournament, which ultimately ended with the Dukes defeating Boston College at Stony Brook’s LaVelle Stadium to claim the national championship.
The defense of that title begins 4 p.m. Friday in College Park, Md., where JMU will take on the Seawolves. The winner advances to face top overall seed Maryland on Sunday.
“I think people are really coming for us,” JMU senior attacker Hanna Haven said. “They know we are the defending champs and we’re going to get the best game from them, so it’s just about being prepared for that.”
Of course the Dukes enter this tournament, their fifth-consecutive appearance, in a slightly different position than last year. Last season, JMU spent most of the year ranked in the Top 5 and earned the No. 3 overall seed to play host to the first two rounds at Sentara Park.
This time around, the trip to College Park presents more challenges. Unseeded, JMU (16-3) will face America East champion Stony Brook with the Seawolves coming off a 15-4 regular season.
JMU enters the tournament with an RPI of No. 16 while Stony Brook is No. 19. Whichever team wins will face a Maryland team that is No. 1 in RPI, but is coming off its first loss of the season after Northwestern upset the Terrapins in the Big Ten championship game.
“I think it’s been different for us this entire season,” JMU junior attacker Maddie McDaniel, who was the Most Outstanding Performer of the CAA Tournament after scoring eight goals in two games, said. “Everyone has been gunning for the defending national champions.”
Of course, if there’s a redemption story left for the Dukes after winning a national title, and more recently hoisting the CAA Tournament trophy for the third-straight season, it would be getting past Maryland.
It was the Terps who handed JMU its only loss of 2018 and another humbling defeat when Maryland visited Harrisonburg on March 24. That afternoon, Maryland scored five times in the first 13 minutes and cruised to an 18-5 victory, the Terps 12 straight in the series.
Since then, JMU has won 10 straight and has been clicking on offense and defense. The Dukes know a deep run in this year’s tournament won’t be easy, but also believe the national championship trophy resides at JMU for a reason after rolling through the CAA once again, including a 10-goal victory in Sunday’s league title game.
“I think this dominant win today shows that we do have a real chance to win a national championship again,” McDaniel said.