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JMU Softball gets exuberant welcome home after making history

Team returns to throngs of cheering supporters


 
JMU Softball WCWS return home bus

SUMMARY: After making history in the Women’s College World Series, the Dukes returned to campus as heroes and JMU legends.


By Khalil Garriott ('04)

HARRISONBURG, Va.—It’s not a stretch to say the JMU Softball program captured the hearts and attention of sports fans—and non-sports fans alike—across the nation during the past several days.

Among the sports figures and entities tweeting about the team: the Washington Football Team, Ron Rivera, the Seattle Mariners, the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and Elliott Sadler. Among the singular legends publicly hopping on the bandwagon: Billie Jean King, Terrell Owens, Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Chipper Jones. The team’s run to the Women’s College World Series national semifinals will forever be etched into institutional lore.

Fans from near and far descended on JMU’s campus Tuesday to welcome the team home. Several hundred fans showed up to celebrate the team’s historic achievement in Oklahoma City. Purple-and-gold-clad fans—some of whom waited nearly two hours on an 88-degree afternoon—lined up to greet the student-athletes and coaches. Police escort in tow, team members got chills upon receiving the warm reception from supporters of all ages, from softball bat-sized fans to longtime loyal followers.

JMU Softball WCWS return home girl

“We’re super blessed to be able to be part of this,” star slugger Kate Gordon said. “It’s great to come home to this. We absolutely love y’all.”

Odicci Alexander’s diving play at the plate was the No. 1 play on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Top 10. The Dukes were the lead item in the New York Times’ morning newsletter on June 4. Google searches for James Madison University increased more than 1,000% from May 31 to June 6.


RELATED CONTENT: President Alger wrote a first-person reflection about the softball team. Read "True Grit" here. 


“We wouldn’t be where we are without you,” head coach Loren LaPorte told the fans. “Thank you so much, JMU Nation.”

LaPorte, JMU President Jonathan R. Alger, Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne and a few softball stars all spoke at the event. It was a party atmosphere; music was thumping and giveaways included posters, pom-poms, decals and streamers. Among the handmade signs on display were “Thank You Dukes,” “You Go Girls!,” “Proud & True: We Are the Dukes of JMU” and “We Love You JMU Softball.”

JMU Softball WCWS return home LaPorte

Spontaneous “J-M-U” chants broke out as the bus approached and players got off.

“The word I would use to describe what they did is monumental,” said Christine Prior (’14), whose favorite part of the tournament was all the JMU home runs. “It was so cool watching them inspire so many people. It will create a bigger fan base—both locally and across the nation. I hope it inspires more people to come to the university.”

Not only did the Dukes make it to their first Women’s College World Series in program history, they advanced all the way to the semifinals. Along the way, they racked up more firsts: JMU became the first school not from a Power Five conference to reach the Women’s College World Series since Louisiana achieved the feat in 2014. It also was the first time since 2012 that a non-seeded team played in Oklahoma City, as JMU and Georgia joined the 2012 LSU and South Florida squads.

The Dukes became the first team in the CAA to participate in the WCWS. They also became the first-ever unseeded team to start 2-0 at the event and the first such squad to reach the WCWS semifinals.

JMU Softball WCWS return home autographs

Some student-athletes came out to support their peers, including a handful of football Dukes. Football head coach Curt Cignetti, deans, administrators and Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed were among the dignitaries in the crowd. Team members signed autographs, posed for photos and soaked in all the adulation.

Tara Daniels, a diehard fan of the Oklahoma Sooners who lives in east Texas, showed up wearing purple, carrying a JMU sign and on a mission to get Alexander’s autograph. She’s been following the Dukes for five years now.

“They made history,” Daniels said. “I don’t call them an underdog, but everyone else does. We all love an underdog story.”

JMU Softball WCWS return home OU fan

Despite being a varsity program for fewer than 20 years, JMU Softball left no doubt that it’s one of the best in the nation. And the JMU faithful will never forget the magical ride of 2021.

“They left everything on the field; Odicci, I’m in awe,” said Alger, calling the team a class act. “You have represented us so, so well. We are so proud of you.”

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Published: Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, June 10, 2021

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