HARRISONBURG — With his whole roster back in town for the start of summer school and individual workouts, James Madison women’s basketball coach Sean O’Regan has some thoughts about where his teams stands roughly five months before the start of the 2019-20 season.
“It’s a fresh start," O’Regan said. “We’ve got to raise the bar. We’re so talented, but how’s it going to fit? We’ve got to earn everything. I don’t care who Kamiah Smalls is. She’s got to earn her spot, too.”
Now, in actuality, Smalls spot in the lineup is about as secure as it gets after averaging 15.9 points and earning first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors last season. But O’Regan’s point is the Dukes won’t be allowed to take anything for granted despite returning the vast majority of a roster that mostly dominated the CAA in the regular season and advanced the the WNIT semifinals.
There’s unfinished business for JMU after a series of late-season injuries contributed to an upset loss to Hofstra in the first-round of the conference tournament and effectively kept the Dukes out of the NCAA tourney.
After taking a good chunk of the spring off to recover after the WNIT run extended the season into April, JMU now doesn’t have much time to waste. The Dukes are playing in a European tour in August and that is in preparation for what is expected to be a daunting early-season schedule.
The full schedule isn’t finalized and hasn’t been released, but JMU will play Big Ten powerhouse Maryland as well as some other major-conference opponents in the season’s opening weeks.
Even with the CAA potentially at its deepest in recent memory, those non-conference games are in effect where Madison’s postseason résumé will be built.
“Our tougher games are earlier this year,” O’Regan said. “So we’ve got to be ready to go very quick. The August games will help. We’ll have opportunities because we’ve had more practices, but we’ve got to be ready to take those opportunities.”
Some of the few questions the Dukes have heading into the season may be answered during the summer. JMU returns four starters — Smalls along with fellow seniors Lexie Barrier, Devon Merritt and Kayla Cooper-Williams. But JMU will have to replace point guard Logan Reynolds. Jackie Benitez, who came off the bench but put up starter’s minutes and production in 2018-19, could slide into the starting lineup, meaning Smalls may play more at the point.
Or sophomore Madison Green could take over for Reynolds after some flashes of brilliance as a freshman. Perhaps Syracuse transfer Nikki Oppenheimer gets some of the those minutes. There’s also the question of how much heralded freshman Kiki Jefferson will chip in at the outset.
The Dukes will likely be picked to win the CAA come fall, but as they’ve come to find out the past few seasons, that doesn’t guarantee anything in March.
“If we can take advantage, maybe we can be on the national scene early instead of having to wait until February to be seen,” O’Regan said.