HARRISONBURG — The very first game of the 2019 lacrosse season was something of a wake-up call for defending NCAA champion James Madison.

North Carolina handed the Dukes a season-opening loss thanks in large part to dominating the draw control, thus regaining possession of the ball after nearly every goal.

But as JMU gets ready to put its title on the line as the NCAA Tournament begins today against Stony Brook in College Park, Md., draw controls have rarely been an issue for the Dukes, now 16-3 after winning the CAA Tournament last week, with Maddie McDaniel in the circle.

“She’s shown a lot more toughness,” JMU coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “Scoring goals, winning draws. She’s growing up. She’s learning her body is big, she’s powerful and she can be stronger than everybody else on the field.”

McDaniel, a 6-foot junior from Severna Park, Md., broke the school record set last season by Haley Warden with 118 draw-control victories. But even that fact doesn’t sum up just how much of the burden McDaniel has taken on since the opening loss to UNC.

Warden won 108 draws in 2018, but two other Dukes, Elena Romesburg and Kristen Gaudian, each won at least 76. This season JMU doesn’t have another player with more than 69. McDaniel, who has a height advantage on most of her opponents, is also doing it more on her own, pushing the ball into the air and reaching to catch it herself rather than pushing it out to a teammate.

“Haley has been my role model since I came on this team,” McDaniel said. “She and I would do draws together every single day before and after practice. She is who I strive to be. But you can tell from the stats, when we win draws we win a lot of games. And me being a self-drawer is a little bit of added pressure.”

Add in McDaniel’s increased offensive presence as the season has gone on and she’s arguably become the most important player on the JMU roster as the NCAA Tournament begins.

McDaniel is now second on the team behind senior attacker Hanna Haven with 37 goals. That includes her team-high eight during the CAA Tournament, which helped land her the Most Outstanding Performer award.

The Dukes face a challenge that won’t be easy this weekend. If they get by Stony Brook, which has won 11 straight entering the tournament, they will have to play No. 1 Maryland, which won 15 of 25 draws in an 18-5 victory at JMU earlier this season.

But Madison feels like it’s taken its game to another level in the past month, and that includes McDaniel’s presence in the center circle.

“I think we do have a chance to win a national championship again,” McDaniel said. “But we have to play at the level we’ve shown we are capable.”

Contact Shane Mettlen at 574-6244 or smettlen@dnronline.com. Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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