Katelyn Morgan, JMU's New Dynamic Duo Lead Dukes Past North Carolina
HARRISONBURG, Va. — On a day when the dynamic duo of Isabella Peterson and Maddie Epke combined for 12 goals, it was Katelyn Morgan who offered the heroics, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, as No. 8 James Madison defeated No. 3 North Carolina in a 19-18 thriller.
“Shock,” Morgan said, referring to her feelings after the game. “Just so much excitement and so much pride for our effort the whole game. We had so much heart. The grit, the JMU grit we’re known for, really showed through especially in the close moments, like in overtime.”
The battle between two top-10 teams was one of runs, and the Dukes were the first to strike. Peterson opened the scoring 51 seconds into the game, and Epke followed with two of her own. The Tar Heels scored three of the next four, including an Eva Ingrilli goal with one second remaining in the first quarter to cut the deficit to 4-3.
After another 3-1 James Madison run to start the second quarter, North Carolina scored six goals to take a 10-7 lead. James Madison head coach Shelley Klaes said the Dukes just needed to get the next score.
“We talk a lot about next possession and just getting one stop,” she said. “If we can get one goal, we stop that run. We nullify that momentum.”
With just over a minute until halftime, Peterson and Epke, who had been kept quiet for much of the second quarter, stepped up. Each scored in the final 1:08 of the half to pull the Dukes within one, and Peterson — a Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2023 — put on a show in the third quarter.
James Madison scored five goals in the period, three of which came from her crosse. Up 12-10, Peterson received the ball on the crease with her back to the goal. Feeling the defense on her back, she leaned to her left and sent a shovel shot into the net. Nearly two minutes later, she scored another highlight reel goal.
Peterson attacked first-team All-America defender Emily Nalls and executed a strong face dodge that tripped her up, providing the time and room to shoot and put the Dukes up 14-10.
“Going into the game, Shelly was like, ‘Don’t try to do anything crazy that you wouldn’t normally do. Stick to your roots. They’re great 1-v-1 defenders, so make sure you’re dodging hard and dodging early,’” Peterson said. “The shovel shot, I never do that because it’s a very low-percentage shot. Normally, I’d roll out of it and use my right hand, but I don’t know what got into me today. Thankfully, it fell.”
North Carolina entered without several key players, announcing earlier this week that Brooklyn Walker-Welch, Marissa White and Chloe Humphrey all suffered season-ending injuries ahead of the season opener. Despite needing to dig into its deep roster, the Tar Heels continued to fight. They scored the next five goals to take a 15-14 lead. Two of those were scored by Humphrey’s sister, Ashley, a graduate transfer from Stanford.
In the back-and-forth contest, it was then Epke’s time to shine. While Peterson powered her way through the defense, Epke used her speed to run by everyone. She scored three goals in the fourth quarter, giving her seven for the day. Epke’s final goal put James Madison ahead 18-15 with a little over four minutes remaining. Once again, the Tar Heels wouldn’t go away, scoring three times to force overtime. Alyssa Long’s third of the game tied it.
Morgan scored the game-winner one minute into overtime, taking a pass on the left wing, rolling into the middle, and firing off a low laser. It came after Epke won the extra period’s opening draw, giving her 10 draw controls.
“We talk a lot about in any offensive set that it doesn’t matter who scores, it just matters that we score,” Morgan said. “We’re never looking for one look or one moment or opportunity. When it’s there, it’s there. I got the ball on the wing. I saw my space. I hadn’t really had that 1-v-1 presence throughout the whole game. Maddie and Bella were incredible 1-v-1 players. I just saw my space, and I took it, and I’m very happy I hit my shot.”
Klaes said Epke’s emergence takes pressure off Peterson on offense and on draws. The two have complementary games that creates a thunder and lightning dynamic. Peterson said she sees a lot of herself in Epke and has tried to take her under her wing.
“I’m at a point where I can’t just focus on me all the time,” Peterson said. “How can I help bring my teammates up? Maddie has so much potential that when I have her out there, it’s very comforting. I know it’s not all one me to score all the goals. She’s amazing.”
On the other side of the equation, Epke credited Peterson for her growth and confidence.
“She’s awesome to learn from,” Epke said.
Epke, who showed some of her individual growth during a successful USA Lacrosse Fall Classic with the U.S. U20 women’s training team, struggled to put words to Saturday’s win. The Dukes hadn’t beaten North Carolina since 2018’s NCAA semifinal. James Madison also opened that season by beating UNC at Sentara Park.
“I can’t even describe the feeling right now,” she said. “I never thought in my life I’d be beating UNC. I mean, I hoped we would, I’ve always wanted to, but being here, and it actually happening, and being a big part of it is an amazing feeling and opportunity.”