For JMU Fans and Alums, Dukes' Run Brought Pure Joy
If there’s one word to describe how JMU alumni feel about the Dukes' run to the semifinals of the 2021 Women's College World Series, it’s proud.
Coming out of the small town of Harrisonburg, Va., not too many people outside of the softball world knew about JMU's program before this spring. But if you ask any Harrisonburg resident, they’ll likely know the ins and outs of JMU softball and say how much the team has impacted them.
“This is great for the community,” JMU fan Marty Dearing said. “It says, ‘Hey, anything is possible and hard work pays off.’”
Dearing, a Harrisonburg resident, attended this year's Women’s College World Series with his daughter, Collins, who has watched JMU softball throughout her life and taken a deep interest in both the program and the sport of softball. Collins began playing softball this year and JMU senior outfielder Kate Gordon quickly became an inspiration to her.
“She wanted to be somebody famous one day for school, so she dressed up as Kate Gordon,” Marty Dearing said. “Her mom made her a jersey and everything.”
Learning to play the sport takes time, and looking up to star players helps young girls have role models. It's even better when those role models are in their own backyard, and for Collins, Gordon was just that this year. To boot, being able to watch her hero hit home runs at the WCWS and shine on national television only boosted Collins' admiration of her.
“This year, (Collins) started playing softball and she really fell in love with it,” Marty Dearing said. “She’s really falling in love with the sport.”
JMU softball’s success isn’t new. The Dukes competed in super regionals in 2017 and 2019, with the first experience taking place at Veterans Memorial Park in Harrisonburg and the second on the road at UCLA. This year, the program's success got to a whole other level, and people across the country began to recognize JMU.
But the people who truly know just how special the program is are the alumnae. While Jailyn Ford, Megan Good and now Odicci Alexander are the team’s most notable softball graduates, there are so many other faces who made the program into what it is today and knew all along that this level of success could come for the Dukes.
Megan Shinaberry, a catcher from 2010-2013 for the Dukes, was in attendance at the 2021 Women’s College World Series. She said watching the program continually get better and become recognized on a national level is something extraordinary for her to witness.
“I’m beyond proud,” Shinaberry said. “They absolutely have just performed beyond any of our expectations. This program has developed over such a long period of time and they have just brought it to another level.”
Shinaberry said that JMU softball sent alumnae their old jerseys to wear to support the Dukes during their quest for a national championship.
“JMU sent me my old jersey and I think that says a lot,” Shinaberry said. “They still support us and we’re super happy to support them.”
The 2021 JMU softball team made alumnae from all over the country proud. From the locals who consistently supported the team long before they were on ESPN, to the program’s alumnae who knew they had what it took to get to the WCWS, the Dukes had a ton of support behind them on their run to OKC.
And while the rest of the country got to enjoy the exceptional performances of Odicci Alexander and company this past spring, it was JMU's faithful fans who perhaps enjoyed the ride the most.