Dukes focused on return to NCAA Tournament

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HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Preseason practice is underway for the James Madison women's basketball team and the Dukes are not shying away from lofty expectations.

The James Madison women's basketball has lofty expectations for the 2019-2020 season.

JMU is considered to be an NCAA Tournament-caliber team this season.

"All of us just talk about it every day," said senior guard Lexie Barrier. "How much we want it, how bad we want it. We get in the gym extra for it. We are just aiming. We are on a mission to be honest."

With five seniors and four starters returning, JMU has an experienced roster headlined by senior guard Kamiah Smalls. Smalls is a CAA Player of the Year candidate who averaged 15.9 points per game last season.

However, Smalls and her classmates have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament during their careers. The Dukes have come up just short of advancing to the Big Dance in each of the last three years. In 2018-2019, JMU was the top seed in the CAA Tournament but with Smalls and Barrier injured, JMU was upset by Hofstra in the quarterfinals. JMU was left out of the NCAA Tournament and the Dukes advanced all the way to the WNIT Semifinals.

"We came up short every single year and it's frustrating but we are more than capable of doing it," said Smalls. "We just need to find the little pieces that we need to get there."

The only current member of the team to appear in an NCAA Tournament game is redshirt senior Kayla Cooper-Williams who was a freshman when the Dukes lost to DePaul in the first round of the 2015-2016 NCAA Tournament.

As the Dukes prepare for the 2019-2020 campaign, JMU has a team built to win the Colonial Athletic Association and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"That's where we want to be," said JMU head coach Sean O'Regan.
"The problem is you can't focus on that part. You gotta focus on today and all that stuff but yeah it would be an extreme disappointment for me and this team if we are not playing in the NCAA Tournament because I thought we were an NCAA Tournament team last year. My plan is to put us in a position so we are an NCAA Tournament team this year."

JMU opens the 2019-2020 season at home against Longwood on November 6.