The James Madison University Women’s Basketball team finished the 2011-2012 season with a 29-8 record and a trip to Women’s National Invitational Tournament Finals (WNIT). Like recent years past, the Dukes once again brought bragging rights back to Harrisonburg with a successful season for JMU.
In each of the past seven seasons the Dukes have been able to acquire more than 20 wins and reach a postseason tournament, NCAA or WNIT. This season James Madison was able to reach 29 wins, setting the school record for most wins in a season. The Dukes were also able to advance to the WNIT Finals for the first time under Head Coach Kenny Brooks and were able to defeat teams from powerhouse conferences, such as the ACC and Big East.
Team MVP and starting guard, junior Tarik Hislop mentioned, “This season was just the beginning of what this team is capable of accomplishing.”
This accomplishment is greatly due to the team’s talent, with each member of the starting lineup earning CAA postseason awards, including representatives on the All-CAA Defensive Team, All-CAA 2nd and 3rd Teams, and the All-CAA Rookie Team. However, the Dukes will not credit their success to talent, but instead hard work.
Tri-Captain and junior forward, Nikki Newman credits the team’s success to “having pride in this program and working hard everyday.” She also mentioned team chemistry, and everyone working together to achieve the same goal was an important factor.
Becoming a member of the JMU Women’s Basketball team stands for much more than playing basketball. The team takes their relationships with each other very seriously. Many of the players and coaches consider the team to be a family on and off the court.
Hislop stated, “My relationship with my teammates is very special; we do everything together and they are like my sisters.”
Head Coach Kenny Brooks takes this idea of family to extremes holding team gatherings at his house, involving the team with his wife and daughters, and ultimately providing a second home for the girls.
Every great player must make their start somewhere, and the Dukes take pride in helping and building on the transition of new freshmen players being “born into” the family. This transition, however, is no easy route, as the staff looks to recruit only players who they think will be coachable and have a positive attitude towards teammates, coaches, and officials.
Brooks says, “We want people who work hard, buy-in, and support what we do here at Madison.”
This hard work attitude is one single trait that the members of this diverse family have in common. It is vital to the growth and betterment of each member, as well as the team as a whole. Brooks mentions that the intensity of his practices must be very high and model the competition the players will see in games so that they are able to get better every day.
Consecutive CAA titles in 2010 and 2011 are certainly the product of this hard work for the Dukes. The Dukes’ respectable run in the WNIT proves a successful season, placing Madison as the CAA runner-up to nationally ranked Delaware, and its NCAA leading scorer Elena Delle Donne.
“It stung not winning a three-peat or getting into the NCAA’s, but our journey with the WNIT was just as great and we learned a lot from that,” Newman pointed out.
Coach Brooks hopes the loss will reiterate the principle of hard work. It should help the team stay focused and determined to return to the throne as CAA Champion next season. If that “stinging” loss weren’t enough to fuel the Dukes, Brooks’ locker room bulletin board with clips from newspapers and the words “GET IT BACK” should provide motivation for the upcoming season and the clean slate that comes with it. The new team motto, “Get It Back”, is part of Coach Brooks’ plan to help his team realize the goal they must work towards as a family for next season.
In the words of Coach Brooks, “When you get a whole team and support staff on the same page, success will follow.”