Key to JMU’s turnaround is centered on CAA’s top player, Ashley Herndon


A two-hour bus ride on Interstate 64 awaits the James Madison women’s soccer team for their next two contests. They’ll travel to Blacksburg for a pair of neutral-site matches at Virginia Tech. The Dukes will face Boston College on Friday before taking on Indiana Sunday.

When it comes to college kids, anything can happen on a bus trip. From the fun and entertaining (singing, dancing or practical jokes) to being serious and focused (everyone listening to music on their headphones or studying).

Regardless of how they express themselves outwardly, they all know inside what is at stake. Six games into the season, the defending Colonial Athletic Association champions are off to their worst start in 10 years. The Dukes are 1-5.

Sunday James Madison outshot defending Big South champ Liberty 17-8, yet a Flames goal in the 85th minute was the difference.

“We played 90 minutes of the best soccer we’ve played all season,” coach Dave Lombardo said after the 1-0 loss. “We were creative throughout the match. …We missed just enough opportunities to finish the day disappointed.”

No one player alone can right the ship for JMU. On occasion, though, Lombardo has turned to one particular senior. He’ll utter three little words to her: step it up. Other times, Lombardo doesn’t have to say anything; she just knows to take it up a notch. Ashley Herndon will play a critical part in getting JMU moving in the right direction.

“I’m more of a leader by example than by speaking up and saying something,” Herndon said in phone interview with American Sports Network. “I want my (on the field) actions to be contagious.”

In JMU’s lone win this season, a 3-2 comeback victory at East Carolina, Herndon had a hand in all three goals. It was a perfect way of leading by example. She assisted on Christine Tack’s two goals while also scoring the game-winner in the 57th minute. Herndon’s goal, a shot from 30 yards out, was the 15th game-winning goal of her career.

“She is one of our top two players,” Lombardo said. “(She has learned) to own up to that responsibility. She started embracing that role and became that go-to player for us.”

While Lombardo considers Herndon one of JMU’s top two players, other coaches and players in the CAA feel Lombardo might be slighting his senior a bit. Herndon was tabbed this season’s CAA Preseason Player of the Year.

In true lead-by-example fashion Herndon cast the award aside.

“That is an incredible honor but it means nothing unless I am able to fulfill it,” she said.

What Herndon has done in the past is the reason for the accolade. En route to last year’s CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, Herndon played 2,046 minutes and all 23 games. She lead the conference with 34 points and 14 goals.

Of the 14 goals, eight were game-winners. Herndon was first team All-CAA and the CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Coming into this season, Herndon was fifth all-time on JMU’s point list, tied for 7th in assists and tied for 10th in goals.

What Herndon’s has achieved in three-plus years collegiately will not come to an end whenever JMU’s season is over.

“I’ll have my degree in sports and recreation management when I graduate (early) in December,” Herndon said. “I worked to graduate early so that I can get drafted to play professionally the spring. Its a dream of mine that I first had when I was a little girl.”

Above: Photo courtesy JMU Athletics
Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand

Keith Chartrand is a freelance writer based in Ocala, Fla.