Soccer Dukes Reach NCAAs Yet Again
| Notch yet another NCAA Tournament appearance for both the JMU men's and women's
soccer programs. The men made their fifth consecutive appearance, and the
women joined the tournament field for the second time in a row.
Coach Tom Martin's men's squad jumped out to an 11-0 start and the program's highest ranking ever at No. 2 nationally in mid-October.
"There's so much parity in college soccer," Martin says. "Everybody else was beating everybody else, except for Virginia, who was No. 1, and ourselves at No. 2. We knew we would probably be in the top four or five that week, but we didn't expect to be that high. I think it was a combination of us playing well, being healthy at the time and everybody else taking turns at losing games that they weren't supposed to." The Dukes went on to the title match of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, but fell short in a 2-0 final to William and Mary. JMU received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and lost its first-round match 2-1 in overtime at Maryland. The final record was 14-5-2 with three of the losses coming to teams that were seeded among the top four for the NCAA tournament, including a 3-2 setback to eventual national champion Florida International.
"We had a great senior group with six out of the first 11 being seniors," notes Martin. "It all starts at the back, and our back line is pretty much decimated by graduation. Barry Purcell was one of the leading goal keepers in the country, Kyle Swords and Mark Miles formed one of the best back lines in the country." The Dukes will have to restructure the midfield where they lose Dave Mason, Sipi Savolainen and Jari Takatalo.
Coach Dave Lombardo's women's team posted the best overall season in the program's seven-year history. The Dukes finished 15-6-2 overall, first in the CAA during the regular season, second in the CAA tournament and ranked 17th in two of the three national polls.
"The '95 season was the real important breakthrough season for us," states Lombardo. "Getting into the NCAA tournament added some validity to what we were doing. There were a lot of skeptics out there that thought that we didn't belong in the '95 tournament, and we were able to further validate that this year by having a good NCAA tournament and our best season ever."
The Dukes received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and defeated North Carolina Greensboro, a team that they had lost to during the regular season, 3-1 in Greensboro, N.C. JMU next faced North Carolina and fell 5-0 to the eventual national champions.
The Dukes will graduate seniors Kristi Palmaccio, Samantha Andersch, third-team All-American Jen Cuesta and Julie Mason. Leading scorer Tasha Ellis will be back for her senior year and goal tenders Stacy Bilodeau and Beth Mangi also return.
"We have some kids that I think could be as good, if not better, than some of the seniors that we are graduating," says Lombardo. Names to watch in the future include Christy Yacono, Jen Graham and Alison Schuch.
|Wood Looks to Fill Football's Holes||
With only 23 players returning from the final two-deep chart of the season, the Dukes will be looking to fill numerous holes during their spring practice, March 22 through April 16. The spring game
is scheduled for April 16 at Bridgeforth Stadium.
"We've got a lot of young kids that were redshirted last year, and we are anxious to see how they will fill in," says head coach Alex Wood. "We will be trying to establish an offensive front that will give us the best running game possible. Defensively, a couple of part-time starters will step into full-time roles with some of the redshirts working in as well."
The most closely watched battle looks to be at quarterback where Greg Maddox, who will be a redshirt sophomore next fall, is expected to be challenged by redshirt freshman Benny Griffin, sophomore John DeFilipo and transfers Craig Akins and Antoine Lucas. Maddox started six games for the 7-4 Dukes last fall while senior Willie Gonzalez was recovering from a fractured left hand. He completed 105 of 204 passes for 1,269 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Dukes were 3-3 with Maddox as the starter.
"This is the highest number quarterbacks I've ever had to work with," says Wood. I expect it to be wide open. It is going to be a challenge for our staff to facilitate that number and determine in 15 days the best couple of guys."
Akins and Lucas both joined the program this semester. Akins, a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder from Chesterfield, Va., led Matoaca High School to a pair of Group AA state titles. He threw for 5,300 yards and 50 touchdowns in his scholastic career. He has two years of eligibility remaining after spending three seasons as a backup at Colorado State. Lucas comes to JMU after playing at Potomac State Junior College in Keyser, W.Va. Successors will also be sought at the other offensive skilled positions. The receiving duo of Macey Brooks and Jay Jones have completed their eligibility, as have tight end Ed Perry and running backs Kelvin Jeter, D'Artagnan Townes and Akiba Byrd. Defensively, the Dukes need to replace linemen Steve Logan, David Forbes and Julius Williams, along with backs John Stein, Tony Jordan, David Lee and Delmar Christian.
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