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James Madison head coach Sean O’Regan talks with James Madison guard Jackie Benitez during a timeout in the first half of the NCAA WNIT quarterfinal game March 31 in Harrisonburg.

HARRISONBURG — Much of the focus on James Madison women’s basketball heading into the upcoming season will be on who returns for the Dukes. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of excitement within the program for newcomers.

JMU brings back its top five scorers from last season and seven of the top nine, including All-Colonial Athletic Association honorees Kamiah Smalls, Lexie Barrier, Kayla Cooper-Williams and Jackie Benitez. The Dukes figure to have experienced depth inside and out, but it’s also possible the two incoming freshmen could challenge for playing time.

That’s especially true for Lancaster, Pa., guard Kiki Jefferson. Jefferson and New Carrollton, Md., forward Rayne Tucker make up the 2019 recruiting class for JMU and both players arrived in Harrisonburg at the start of the week as summer classes and workouts began.

Tucker, a 6-foot-1 post presence, hadn’t started participating in drills as of Tuesday as some final paperwork was taken care of, but Jefferson has already been through individual sessions with JMU coach Sean O’Regan and made an impression.

“Kiki looks great,” O’Regan said. “We’ve been working individually to make sure we don’t have wasted reps and she’s been doing a great job. Rayne, we’re just waiting for her to get cleared.”

The 6-foot-1 Jefferson is capable of playing on the perimeter and in the paint and comes to JMU after being named USA Today’s Pennsylvania Player of the Year the past two seasons for Lancaster Catholic.

Back On The Court

Barrier produced a solid junior season for the Dukes, averaging nearly 11 points and five rebounds per game, but it didn’t come to a pleasant end for the Ironton, Ohio, product.

Barrier went to the floor in obvious pain less than a minute into the CAA Tournament opener against Hofstra and missed the rest of the season including the Dukes’ run to the WNIT semifinals with a fractured hand.

But she tweeted earlier in the month she’d been cleared to play once again and O’Regan said she’s off to an encouraging start.

“She looks great,” O’Regan said. “She’s got a little bit of rust, but she’s getting back to it. It was the first real time she’s been injured, so I think it was a big thing for her to get the total clearance.”

News To Come

JMU is getting back into the swing of things without much time to spare as the Dukes will travel to Europe in August for an NCAA approved overseas tour playing against teams from France and other countries.

In the meantime the Dukes are waiting on the final couple of contracts to release their stateside schedule for the 2019-20 season, a bit of business O’Regan hopes could be finished in the coming days.

Additionally, the JMU head man hopes to also have an assistant coach hired in the near future as the Dukes are still looking to replace Bridgette Mitchell, who took an assistant job at Pittsburgh.

“I plan on making a decision by the end of the week,” O’Regan said. “I don’t know exactly how the paperwork works, but we’re doing interviews now and we’ll be closing in by the end of the week.”

Contact Shane Mettlen at 574-6244 or Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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