March Madness is one of the greatest sporting events in America. It pits some of the finest young athletes from all over the country against each other, while some of the finest fans (young and old) wager on their performances.
By the end of week one, brackets are broken and dreams are shattered. Life goes on.
The men receive the majority of the month’s fanfare, but not here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Dukes failed to reach the big dance for the second year in a row and will have to watch from their couches as the women march on to their second consecutive NCAA tournament.
The 12th-seeded women’s team will head down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Saturday to face 5th-seeded Ohio State. JMU finished the season 29-3, won their second CAA title in a row, and watched coach Kenny Brooks set the program’s all-time win record. Now it’s time to make some waves on the national stage.
Despite losing hometown heroes Kirby Burkholder and Nikki Newman from last season, the lady Dukes have plenty of experience to accompany their undeniable talent. Seniors Toia Giggetts and Lauren Okafor provide leadership and quality minutes, with Okafor just a tick shy in rebounds from averaging a double-double. Junior Precious Hall is an offensive force. Averaging over 20 points per game and over 36 percent from deep; the undeniable star of the quad. Not to be outdone, junior guard Angela Mickens dishes out 7.5 assists per game and is just the type of player the lady Dukes need in this type of tournament.
Knocking off Ohio State won’t be an easy task. The lady Dukes are winless in their five previous match-ups against the Buckeyes. But JMU did knock off Pittsburgh this season, a team Ohio State fell to. Both teams lost to Maryland, their only other mutual opponent.
The Dukes will have to look out for Kelsey Mitchell. She leads the Buckeyes in scoring, 3 point shooting, as well as assists. If she’s contained, JMU’s chances will vastly improve. It’s just as critical to control Alexa Hart and Shayla Cooper on the boards. Each averages over 8 per game. After Okafor’s 9.8 per game, JMU doesn’t have a player with over 5 rebounds per game. Also going against the ladies in purple and gold is an underlying feeling among experts that Ohio State is a potential Cinderella.
Don’t rule out the Dukes just yet.
Who knows? After Saturday they could be the ones wearing the glass slipper.