James Madison’s players proudly considered themselves underdogs this season, but they’re long shots no longer.
On a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium, the Dukes shed their doubters and proved what they believed all along: that James Madison can be a force in the women’s lacrosse world.
Elena Romesburg’s goal with 17:21 left in the second half put the Dukes ahead for good, and Haley Warden’s goal with 1:05 left proved to be the winner as third-seeded James Madison beat fourth-seeded Boston College, 16-15, in the NCAA Division I title game in front of 7,532 fans.
BC moved within 12-11, 14-13 and 15-14 before Warden cut to the goal, took a feed from Katie Kerrigan and scored. The Eagles’ Sam Apuzzo fed Tess Chandler for a goal that brought the Eagles within 16-15 with 22.1 seconds left, but Warden helped JMU win the ensuing draw control, and the Dukes ran out the clock.
It is the first national championship in women’s lacrosse for James Madison, for a mid-major and for the Colonial Athletic Association. Warden, a senior who totaled nine goals Friday and Sunday, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“I think that no one expected us to win this game today, and I’d say yeah, we were the underdogs,” she said. “But right now, I just think that our hard work this entire season really paid off. I’m happy we embraced that mentality because I think it really helped us thrive this weekend.”
Two goals each by Hanna Haven and Morgan Hardt gave JMU (22-1) a 4-1 lead, but the Eagles didn’t wilt. They scored the next four goals for a 5-4 lead, beginning a back-and-forth affair.
After Boston College (22-2) took a 10-8 lead on Chandler’s free position with 26:28 remaining, JMU’s defense buckled down, keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard for nearly 15 minutes. Goals by Haven, Romesburg, Maddie McDaniel and Kristen Gaudian gave the Dukes a 12-10 lead. Then it was just a matter of holding off a Boston College team that overcame late deficits against Stony Brook and Maryland in the previous two rounds.
Senior Rebecca Tooker of Eastport, a key defender for JMU, was in awe of her team’s accomplishments. To do it all at nearby Stony Brook in front of family made it “10 times better.”
“The fact that they were able to see me, in my last game ever in lacrosse, really just hits home with me,” Tooker said. “I know my parents are going to love this, too. It’s a memory we’re all going to have together.”
JMU, ranked 17th nationally in preseason, erased any remaining doubters with a balanced offense, stingy zone defense and relentless effort on draws. The Dukes proved that a mid-major can compete against — and beat — teams playing at the highest level.
“At this point, anything is possible,” Tooker said. “Our seniors, we came in with a vision this year. We wanted everyone to be on the same page, we all had goals, we all got along. Anyone can do it.”
“People can make choices,” said JMU coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, who coached Hofstra from 2002-06. “They don’t have to go to the power five conferences to play big-time lacrosse. I think they just really took that to heart today. I think they really understand that they’re helping to grow the sport.”
Four Long Islanders chose to play at JMU. Tooker, Natalie Fuccillo (Eastport), Corinne Schmidt (Brightwaters) and Tara Wahl (Farmingdale) took the road less traveled to an NCAA title, blazing a path for others to do the same.
“It’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “We know we’re big at JMU, we just need others to understand. I think today we sent a message, and I’m just so proud of my JMU Dukes.”