Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe experienced Colonial Athletic Association championships and NCAA Tournament play as a Dukes' player. Now she's led JMU to back-to-back CAA titles and NCAA Tournament appearances and top-five national ranking. Scott Klepacz of JMU Athletics Communications spoke with the Dukes' coach and prepared this report on a sport that has not yet caught the full attention of the JMU community.JMU alumnae
NOTE: JMU plays the Wales National Team on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium, following a Wales vs. Bridgewater College game at 4:30 p.m. Fans may park for free in the Champions Drive parking deck, and seating will be available in sections 1-8. (Directions)
The Dukes open their home schedule on Feb. 29 with a 4 p.m. game against Virginia Tech at the JMU Lacrosse Complex. Admission and parking is free. (Directions)
A fast-paced, adrenaline-spiked game. The top-ranking team on campus. A top-10 national rank. Eight CAA Championships since 1987, including the last two. Best yet, it's all free. Is it the best kept secret on the James Madison campus?
In fact, the JMU lacrosse team has been ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation 15 of the last 18 seasons. During that span, the Dukes were a top-five team in the nation five years in a row. Twenty-seven players who wore purple and gold have also worn their national colors. So, are they the best kept secret on campus? Head Coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe thinks so.
"It's really a testament to the work that's been done," Klaes-Bawcombe said. "It speaks to the respect our athletes have for themselves, for each other, and for the program. They do this for themselves and for each other. It's not about the hype."
But hype is exactly what the lacrosse team deserves.
"I don't think it's anybody's fault [that we don't get a ton of coverage]," said the coach. "It's just that our success happens when there is not a lot of opportunity for coverage. Our conference tournament is usually graduation weekend and when we play in NCAAs in May most of the students have left. Also, we're not really in a hotbed for lacrosse. It's still mostly a northeastern sport, and when we get started in mid-February a lot of people don't want to have to brave the cold to come see us."
For those of you who don't know much about lacrosse, the strategy is very similar to basketball. The style and speed of play is comparable to ice hockey, and the field is set up similarly to soccer. When you take the best parts of those three sports (minus the hockey fights), you get the product of lacrosse. Combine that with a program that is consistently one of the best in the nation and you truly get an exciting event.
For JMU, this season expects to be no less than the best. With 11 returning seniors, JMU not only hopes, but expects to be the top team in the CAA.
"I think a lot of people are aware of the 2004 football national championship, and I hope a lot of people are aware of the 1994 field hockey national championship," Klaes-Bawcombe said. "What I don't think people are aware of is lacrosse's final four appearance in 2000. I don't think people know we've been ranked No. 2 in the country. People don't know that since 2005, 100 percent of lacrosse student-athletes have played in an NCAA tournament and since '97, 100 percent of lacrosse student athletes have been CAA Champions. Consistency has been our number one goal throughout. It's still our highest priority now. We don't want to go to the [NCAA] tournament once. We want to go every year."
The Dukes, now more than ever, look poised to make their push. With 11 returning seniors, JMU will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation. Coach Klaes-Bawcombe noted that a lot of the Dukes' successes can be attributed to their great leadership.
"We work a lot on leadership both on and off the field," noted Klaes-Bawcombe. "We spend a lot of time away from the field developing the kind of character it takes to successful at a high level.
"Our captains are exceptional. Casey Ancarrow's resume speaks for itself. She's had the opportunity to play at the national level (U.S. National Team) and she took some of the things that made us successful to that team. She also brought those things from playing with the national team back here and said 'I think these are things that can make us better.'"
"We also have Cally Chakrian. She's a two-time all-conference and a two-time all-region defender. Cally is just a force to be reckoned with. She is a true competitor and she's tough as nails. She's extremely fun to watch."
"Our third captain, Annie Brophy, is the epitome of JMU lacrosse. She was all-conference for us last year for the first time in her career. Annie is a blue-collar type athlete. She never gives up and she has excellent work ethic. She has stepped up as our most well-rounded, balanced leader and she brings such emotion to the team."
"Consistency is what it's all about for us," Klaes-Bawcombe said. "The sport has more than doubled in size [as far as number of Division I teams competing] in the last 10 years and we have stayed at the top throughout. That's a huge tribute to this program, especially for a 'mid-major.' Look at the national team for example; we've had 27 players play for their national team. There are 48 women on the national team. Three of them came from JMU. Most programs would be fortunate to one athlete on the team. It's just great for us that we can maintain that level of competition."
The ninth-ranked JMU Dukes get their season started at home with an exhibition game on Feb. 14 against the Wales National Team at 6:30 p.m.
"People should check us out. They will really enjoy the game," Klaes-Bawcombe noted. "It's a really fun game with a ton of excitement."