It's a Philadelphia story today for James Madison as the Dukes head to the City of Brotherly Love to take on Villanova.
Even with the Wildcats coming off a season-opening loss to George Washington, the Big East foe should provide a significantly bigger challenge for a JMU women's team that beat Longwood by 40 points to start the 2019-20 campaign.
Harry Perretta is in his 41st season as Villanova’s coach with 11 NCAA Tournament appearances on his resume and last year’s 19-13 Wildcats team was the first one in seven years not to win 20 games.
“I know Nova too well,” JMU coach Sean O’Regan said after the Longwood victory. “We’ve played against them twice in my three years and Coach Perretta is not changing too much. For us it is going to be a different challenge. We answered the bell on this challenge today.”
It's an early homecoming game for a trio of JMU players hailing from Eastern Pennsylvania, giving it plenty of Philly flair on both sides.
Dukes senior Kamiah Smalls and freshman Kiki Jefferson, JMU's two leading scorers in the Longwood game, each came from the Philly Belles AAU program. Smalls is a product of Philadelphia proper while Jefferson grew up down the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lancaster. Senior forward Devon Merritt, from Reading, Penn., is also playing close to home.
“It’s very exciting,” Smalls said. “It’s always good going down to Philly. Kiki is kind of from Philly. She’s from Lancaster. She claims Philly, so I think we will have a nice crowd over there. Devon Merritt is from Pennsylvania as well, so we always bring an eclectic crowd with us.”
It’s also, practically speaking, a nice early-season preparation for the team that could provide the Dukes the biggest challenge in the upcoming Colonial Athletic Association race.
Drexel coach Denise Dillon, who took the Dragons to a second-place finish in the CAA last season and brings back most of her roster, played for Perretta at Villanova and served as an assistant with the Wildcats early in her coaching career.
“Villanova is a different challenge [than Longwood],” O’Regan said. “It might be a slower tempo. Knowing Coach Perretta, like Denise Dillon in the same system, are they going to pick on freshman Kiki Jefferson with a matchup? Are they going to pick on Devon Merritt, who struggles to guard sometimes? That’s for me to kind of counter punch with them.”