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JMU women's lacrosse

2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 12 James Madison (Women)

January 19, 2023
Justin Feil
John Strohsacker
The 2023 college lacrosse season is almost here. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.
Check back to each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.


2022 Record: 14-5 (6-0 CAA)
Final Ranking (2022): No. 13
Coach: Shelley Klaes


Mairead Durkin, D, R-Sr.

The third-team All-American caused 52 turnovers defending the crease in zone or marking 1-on-1. “Mairead toes the line of foul or making a big play. She’s so long we’re trying to shorten her steps and her hand movements so she can really cause havoc and there’s no question,” Shelley Klaes said.

Isabella Peterson, A, R-Jr.

The CAA Player of the Year returns with confidence after being eighth nationwide in goals per game. She’ll also take the draw. “I thought she dominated this fall,” Klaes said. “Her stick skills with the draw stick, she’s more of a transition threat now. And I think that she’s going to be more of a self-draw.”

Rachel Matey, D, R-Sr.

Overlooked at times because of Durkin, Matey was an All-American as a sophomore. She is the intense, vocal leader of the Dukes defense. “What doesn’t get noticed is she blocks on 8-meter shots,” Klaes said. “That was a big part of Molly Dougherty’s 8-meter save percentage.” Matey also ranks second all-time in JMU draw controls.


Caitlin McElwee, A, So.

McElwee will make her college debut after missing her freshman year due to injury. She was one of the Dukes’ top scorers in her first fall. She has a high lacrosse IQ and puts herself in the right place at the right time and has a knack for scoring.

Madison Epke, A, Fr.

Epke could help on the draw, but she’ll be most valuable as the solution to JMU’s crease void.  “She has great stick skills,” Klaes said. “She has great composure. She makes strong decisions. She can dish the ball, but she’s also looking for her own. That’s what we’ve been looking for.”

Josie Pell, M, Fr.

Pell adds much-needed depth to the midfield for a team that wore down in NCAAs. The Glenelg Country (Md.) product had a strong first fall that gave the coaching staff confidence in her to step right in. “She’s a utility workhorse,” Klaes said. “She’s very reliable and consistent on both ends. She’s been impressive.”


Graduations: Katie Checkosky, A; Molly Dougherty, G
Transfers: Brittany Bill, A (Moravian)


Who fills Molly Dougherty’s big shoes?

The graduation of the goalie who backstopped their 2018 national title left the most glaring hole for the Dukes. Dougherty started 81 games over the last five years. Fifth-year senior Kat Buchanan earned the starting nod this fall.

“Kat has come back ready,” Klaes said. “She’s playing really strong lacrosse. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do with the opportunity in front of her.”

Buchanan has never played more than 117 minutes in a season, but has been in the program four years and made two starts in 2021, including an overtime win over High Point. Buchanan has been biding her time behind Dougherty. She will be backed up by freshman Caitlin Boden and sophomore Adanya Moyer after a competitive fall.

“The last two years we’ve gotten a lot out of Kat,” Klaes said. “ Last year, we gave her every opportunity we could because we knew what was happening.”

What does the conference change mean?

JMU was unbeaten in its final year in the CAA. This spring will be the first season in the American Athletic Conference with the likes of Florida, Temple and Vanderbilt as new rivals. Klaes is looking at it as a refreshing change.

“Everything will be new for our program,” Klaes said. “New opponents. New strategies. We don’t know what restaurant to go to [on the road], even down to that. It’s going to test us.”

The new batch of competition is motivating the JMU staff. They are trying to familiarize themselves with the strengths and weaknesses of their new conference foes. Their conference opener comes March 18 when they host Florida, which only joined the AAC in 2019. The Gators have won eight straight conference tournament titles dating back to their Big East and American Lacrosse Conference days.

“Every game is new, so it gives us hyper focus to go one game at a time,” Klaes said. “We can’t take anyone lightly.”

How much firepower does this offense have?

The JMU attack graduated top feeder Katie Checkosky and is a younger unit overall, though many of attackers do have playing experience.

Peterson is one of the best in the country and gives the Dukes a great starting point. She’s been picking the brain of new offensive assistant Colleen Shearer, who already generated increased contributions from returning players like junior Katelyn Morgan in the fall. Senior Tai Jankowski, redshirt-junior Taylor Marchetti and redshirt-senior Lizzy Fox all return after double-digit goal seasons. An influx of young talent, led by attackers Epke and McElwee, will have a chance to bolster the attack that looks promising under Shearer’s new structure.

“It’s giving them really good understanding of what the expectations and standards are, and I think they’re thriving,” Klaes said. “Different offensive sets, different players, I think we’re going to have new fresh energy as an offensive program.”


“That program takes on Shelley’s personality. They’re incredible. What they do and what Shelley gets out of them is off the charts. Isabella Peterson is probably one of the best players in the country. They’re just gritty and gutsy.”

“JMU plays a tough style of lacrosse, and they are always very stingy on the defensive end. I expect them to play with a lot of confidence coming out of last year and the success they have with the players they have returning, like Peterson. They always play with toughness. Look to them to have another great year.”



The Dukes are the poster-child for why you should take “returning share of points” statistics with a grain of salt. There is more to a player’s contribution than points. I use EGA to measure everything that a player does with an apples-to-apples metric. If you just look at returning share of points, JMU ranks 24th, but if you use the more inclusive calculation that takes into account turnovers, ground balls, etc., then that ranking shoots up to 14th. Production is what matters, not points.

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