Rebecca Tooker’s parents didn’t have to make the long drive from Eastport to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to watch their daughter play Friday night.
All they had to do was drive 30 minutes down the road to Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium, where Tooker’s James Madison women’s lacrosse team made program history.
Tooker helped anchor a dominant zone defense as the third-seeded Dukes beat second-seeded North Carolina, 15-12, in the first of two NCAA Division I semifinals. James Madison will play in the national championship game for the first time in program history against the Maryland-Boston College winner at noon on Sunday at LaValle Stadium.
Even with a sizable cheering section on hand, Tooker, who went to Eastport-South Manor High School, said she didn’t focus much on the homecoming.
“I really tried to stay focused on my teammates, really, and just the energy that we bring to each other,” said Tooker, who had two of JMU’s 15 ground balls. “I know looking into the stands, I see my family, extended family, my friends from high school, but I real ly just wanted to stay focused because these are the girls I’ve been with for the last four years.”
James Madison (21-1) took a 3-0 lead in the first eight minutes. North Carolina (17-4) cut it to 3-2 and eventually 5-4, but the Dukes caused a turnover, raced down the field for a goal by Morgan Hardt and took an 8-4 halftime lead.
Standout freshman Jamie Ortega of Centereach scored four goals for North Carolina, including the Tar Heels’ first two of the second half. Marie McCool, a senior Tewaaraton Award finalist, had two goals and three assists in the second half, but her efforts weren’t enough against a zone praised by UNC coach Jenny Levy.
“Collectively as a unit, although other teams play something similar, those guys play real ly well together,” Levy said. “They have a tendency to read things a little quicker.”
Said Tooker: “I think we’re real ly on top of the world right now with our defense.”
That defense came in support of an offense that clicked early, with Haley Warden scoring five times, four in the first half. Hanna Haven and Kristen Gaudian each had a hat trick.
“I was confident in the entire team the whole game because we do have so many threats on the attacking end,” Gaudian said. “Going into the second half, I was just even more motivated.”
JMU coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, the Hofstra women’s lacrosse coach from 2002-06, said it all stemmed from that dominant start.
“I think we really stifled UNC with our energy early,’’ she said, “and I think we never looked back from that moment.”