Wednesday, March 27, 2013

JMU team of present -- and future -- meets Fordham in WNIT

One more time, James Madison is peaking in March.

Now, if we could only get the Dukes to that other tournament ...

JMU (24-10), WNIT runner-up a year ago, will host Fordham (26-8) in the WNIT's round of 16 at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Dukes have already won a pair in the tournament, defeating North Carolina A&T and North Carolina State.

JMU is 15-0 in postseason play when playing at the JMU Convocation Center, and credit the JMU administration for rewarding its women's team by continuing to bid and receive home WNIT home games. A year ago, the Dukes became the darlings of Harrisonburg thanks to five postseason victories in front of their rowdy supporters and a band that has no rival in the CAA.

What the Dukes are showing us in this tournament -- in addition to being a threat to win the whole thing -- is how strong they will be next season despite the graduation of CAA first-teamer Tarik Hislop. Kirby Burkholder, another first-team all-CAA selection, will return, and Nikki Newman, sidelined the majority of the season with a foot injury, was granted another year by the NCAA. Sophomore Toia Giggetts emerged as an offensive threat last year and shoots  a team-best 50 percent.  Freshmen Jazmon Gwathmey, Angela Mickens and Precious Hall are each carving their place on JMU present and JMU future. Mickens scored double-digit points against the Wolfpack; Hall (9.5 ppg) is the CAA Rookie of the Year; and Gwathmey is good for 6.1 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Toss in sophomore Crystal Ross, who has started the last seven games for the Dukes, and you've got the makings of the CAA preseason favorite for 2013-14.

But while this season is still alive, w'd beat on the Dukes snagging another WNIT win. Admittedly, we like this unheralded Fordham team, which fell by a point to St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 championship game. Marah Strickland, who 100 years ago played at Maryland and then South Carolina, is finishing out her career at the New York school, while 6-2 freshman forward Samantha Clark, five times the A-10 Rookie of the Week, continues to impress.

Winner meets either Charlotte or Florida in the quarterfinals. We like JMU to get there.

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