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Maddie Epke emerged as a go-top option for James Madison in 2024.

NCAA Rewind: Epke Emerges, Defense Scuffles for JMU

July 4, 2024
Kenny DeJohn
Steve Prakope

Before USA Lacrosse Magazine looks ahead to what’s to come in 2025 — look out for our NCAA Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings later this summer — our team of staff and contributors decided it was worth taking a last look at the 2024 college lacrosse season.

To do that, we’re taking a journey through 30 of the top teams in men’s and women’s lacrosse to see what went right, what went wrong and how we should feel about the season.


USA Lacrosse preseason/final ranking: No. 8/No. 17
2024 record: 14-6 (5-1 AAC)

What went right: James Madison’s draw unit was excellent, in large part due to the emergence of Maddie Epke as a weapon. She led the Dukes with 178 draw controls. Along with Isabella Peterson’s 89 draw controls, JMU boasted a strong draw team that ranked 22nd nationally in draw percentage (.561) and 13th in draw controls per game (16.9).

Let’s keep it rolling with Epke. JMU entered the year as a team in need of replacing depth across the field, and the sophomore midfielder grabbed hold of more opportunities on offense. Her 80 points were second on the team behind Peterson, as were her 57 goals.

Sophomore Caitlin Boden provided some stability in the cage, saving 43 percent of shots in front of a JMU zone defense that wasn’t up to its typical standard.

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What went wrong: About that defense. JMU’s vaunted zone took a step back in 2024, tying Coastal Carolina for 56th nationally in scoring (11.75 goals allowed per game). There was bound to be change, with Shelley Klaes losing defensive stalwarts like Mairead Durkin. Lizzy Pirisino and Nichole Marshall were returning starters, but three new players entered the starting lineup — freshman Ava Bleckley, sophomore Courtney Quirk and senior Alex Pirisino.

That inconsistent defense led to some rocky performances, like a 21-13 loss to Johns Hopkins and two pivotal losses to Florida — 15-7 on April 13 and 21-11 on May 4. JMU’s season ended with another one-sided affair, 17-7 to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Season highlight: This one’s probably a toss-up between James Madison’s first win of the season — 19-18 in overtime over North Carolina — and its last win of the season — 14-13 over Penn State.

The latter was Epke’s breakout showing, with the sophomore leading the charge against the Tar Heels with seven goals, one assist and 10 draw controls. The former was a late comeback in the first round of the NCAA tournament in which Taylor Marchetti tied it with 3:26 remaining and Peterson found Epke for the winner with 2:26 left.

Verdict: A lot of teams would sign up for a second-round NCAA tournament appearance, and that’s become something of a standard for the Dukes. Their calling card changed, though, from a defensive force to an offense-first team. Will that correct itself in 2025?