Following a record-breaking season in 2014, the James Madison softball team was selected as the consensus pick to win the 2015 Colonial Athletic Association title on Wednesday, according to a vote by the league’s eight head coaches.
The Dukes received a first-place vote from every opposing coach in the conference and tallied 56 points in the preseason poll.
“It is nice to have the respect from other teams but I heard a quote the other day that you have to block out all the noise and focus on what you need to do,” Head Coach Mickey Dean said. “It’s going to be important for our group to block out the noise and focus on our day-to-day preparation.”
JMU finished 2014 with a 45-15 record, which set school records for most wins and fewest losses in a single season. The Dukes captured the CAA regular-season title for the first time in team history and won their second-ever CAA Championship, the first coming back in 2009.
Madison earned its first national ranking following the championship run, entering the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 Poll at No. 25. Entering the 2015 season, the Dukes are the first team outside the top 25 by a mere four points. JMU is also receiving votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll.
JMU returns its top two pitchers in junior Jailyn Ford (Hot Springs, Va./Bath County) and senior Heather Kiefer (Potomac Falls, Va./Potomac Falls), as the duo accounted for all but one win last season.
Ford was recognized as the program’s first All-American, being named a National Fastpitch Coaches Association Second Team All-American after going 24-7 with a 1.26 ERA, 233 strikeouts, 21 complete games and four saves in 228.2 innings pitched. She was also named Pitcher of the Year by both the CAA and the Eastern College Athletic Conference while garnering Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) Player of the Year honors.
Kiefer completed 2014 with a 20-8 record with a 2.04 ERA, 71 strikeouts, 14 complete games and three saves in 161.2 innings pitched. Both pitchers were named NFCA First Team All-Northeast Region and Kiefer was a Second Team All-CAA pitcher behind Ford, who was a first teamer.
The Dukes also return seven of nine field starters, including junior catcher Erica Field (Manassas, Va./Osbourn Park), who was named 2014 CAA co-Defensive Player of the Year, and sophomore utility player Niki Prince (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge), who was honored as the CAA Rookie of the Year a season ago. JMU also adds nine freshman to the roster this season, making it one of the younger teams in the country.
“The experience helps, especially when you have a pitching staff that has a lot of big-game experience,” Dean said. “You have to focus every pitch because you could be in a game with 220 total pitches and it only takes one pitch to mess up everything done to that point. We want to make sure we’re able to keep our focus, which for a young team is key; we want to focus from first pitch to last pitch.”
Following Madison in the predicted order of finish was College of Charleston in second (48 points), Hofstra in third (46 – 1 first-place vote) and Towson in fourth (37). The bottom half consisted of Delaware in fifth (29), Elon sixth (28), UNCW seventh (21) and Drexel eighth (15).
2015 CAA Softball Predicted Order of Finish
- James Madison (7) – 56 points
- College of Charleston – 48
- Hofstra (1) – 46
- Towson – 37
- Delaware – 29
- Elon – 28
- UNCW – 21
- Drexel – 15
() – first-place votes