Tuesday, December 6, 2016

James Madison Profile: Dukes Plan for Life After Jailyn Ford

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Dukes began 2016 with a five-game showing at the Orlando-hosted UCF Knights Invitational. Posting a 4-1 record at the tournament, with a tight 2-1 loss to Alabama as the sole blemish, the Dukes took three of their four victories via shutout.

Despite a small-profile school, Megan
Good has proven herself a national award
contender since she set foot on a Division
1 mound.
Photo: JMU Athletics
At Michele Smith's annual Pediatric Cancer Foundation Invitational in Clearwater, Florida, the Dukes put together a serious run, besting Tennessee; DePaul; Fordham; then-#3 Auburn; and Oklahoma State all in the span of three days.

A seventeen-game winning streak followed the Alabama loss, including the Clearwater victories, as well as a two-game sweep of Arizona in the desert of Tucson. It was mid-March before the Dukes lost again, this time to Nebraska in Tempe, AZ. It was a swift turnaround that saw the Dukes then shutout the Huskers in a rematch and best Arizona State in extras thereafter.

A doubleheader sweep of the ACC's Virginia, with both victories coming via shutout, served as a fine entrance to the conference schedule, while a split doubleheader against Virginia Tech dotted the midseason schedule.

In conference play, the Dukes swept Towson by a combined score of 30-6; College of Charleston by a combined score of 16-5; Drexel by a combined scored of 19-0; and Delaware by a combined score of 25-7. A split series with Elon, including one game that spanned fifteen innings before going the Phoenix's way, and a doubleheader sweep of Hofstra finished the regular season.

The conference tournament proved little trouble, as the Dukes swept through three victories as the #1 seed and took home the conference tournament crown once again.

Ranked as the national #7 seed, the Dukes outscored their opponents 22-2 in their three regional matchups, including the ACC's North Carolina, to move on to the Super Regional round.

Hosting LSU and setting all kinds of program attendance records during the Supers, the Dukes won game one in walk-off fashion, but lost nail-biting games two and three 2-0 and 3-2, respectively, to end their magical season just barely short of OKC.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P - (Jailyn Ford); Megan Good
C - (Erica Field)
1B - Megan Good; (Jailyn Ford)
2B - Madyson Moran
3B - Morgan Tolle
SS - Niki Prince
LF - (Hannah Hayes)
CF - Kassie Brammer
RF - Taylor Newton
DP - Jessica Mrozek

Carrying the Clipboards: Head coach Mickey Dean has to be one of the best unheralded softball minds in the country. He was rewarded for his tremendous success in a short period of time at JMU with a contract extentsion this offseason that will tie him to the Dukes until 2021. In just four seasons, Dean has led the program to the NCAA tournament every year and has lost just seven conference games in that span. He has led his program to three league championships, as well as the #7 overall seed in 2016, the first-ever NCAA tournament national seed for the Dukes' program.

Jennifer Herzig joined Dean's staff at JMU from the beginning of his tenure, charged with the tutelage of the program's backstops and outfielders. Herzig returns two of her three starting outfielders from a season ago and must replace Erica Field behind the plate, a player she guided to all-conference first-team honors and the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons and who earned the #18 overall pick in the NPF draft. Prior to JMU, Herzig was the head coach at UNC-Greensboro where she recorded 173 victories in seven seasons at the program's helm and holds the distinction of her program four times upsetting the conference's top seed in the tournament.

Loren Messick LaPorte followed Dean from his former position at Radford to JMU and has served on his staff ever since. LaPorte was a part of more than 100 victories at Radford and three consecutive conference regular-season championships. A former Roanoke College athlete, LaPorte four times earned first-team all-conference honors and saw her name in five places in the program's record books' top-ten at the conclusions of her career.

Additions: The Dukes welcome a twelve-member freshman class that includes infielder/outfielder Cambry Arnold; utility player Odicci Alexander; utility player Kate Gordon; catcher Raine Wilson; infielder Madison Naujokas; utlity player Kierstin Roadcap; pitcher/infielder Natalie Helmick; catcher/outfielder Courtney Walton; utility player Natalie Cutright; outfielder Michala Pellegrino; pitcher/outfielder Molly Meenan; and infielder Adriana Erickson.

Subtractions: The Dukes said goodbye to three starters at graduation, including pitcher/slugger extraordinaire Jailyn Ford; all-conference catcher Erica Field; and starting outfielder Hannah Hayes.

Scheduling: *This article will be updated when the team's regular-season schedule is released.

Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths - Megan Good is one of the nation's best hurlers, Jailyn Ford's support notwithstanding. She will be an invaluable member of the squad this season, even more so thanks to Ford's departure to graduation. Several key members of the offense return, including Taylor Newton, the hero of game one of the Super Regionals last year. Many of the members of the Dukes batting order aren't necessarily flashy players, but they can get the job done effectively.

Weaknesses - Replacing a player of Jailyn Ford's caliber, especially in the lineup and circle simultaneously, is no small task. The chemistry that she and Field developed over their four years will be ridiculously difficult to duplicate, as will Field's hand in developing Megan Good in the circle. The Dukes also no longer get to play 'spoiler' - they will be viewed and treated as a legitimate contender by even the top programs.

Outlook for 2017: The Dukes may have had a small senior class, but, as the old saying goes, dynamite comes in small packages. The departed must be one of the most dynamite groups in school history. If they can adequately make up for those gaping holes in their defense, pitching staff, and batting order, the coaching and the playmakers remain throughout the rest of the lineup to keep the Dukes in contention on the national scene in 2017.

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