The Challenge Of Replacing Hall

Josh Walfish, Publisher
Dukes of JMU
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Holly Marcus / Special to the DN-R

HARRISONBURG — James Madison women’s basketball is only slated to lose one player off its 26-win team heading into the offseason.

The problem is that one player was the main reason the Dukes finished with a 26-9 record in the first place.

When asked about if it was beneficial for next year to only lose one senior, freshman Kamiah Smalls didn’t even hear the end of the question before responding with a chuckle and a “psst,” indicative of just how big a loss that Precious Hall will be for the team.

“We all know what [Hall] brings to the table in itself,” rising senior Tasia Butler said. “[She’s] a crucial part of a lot of what we do.”

The Precious Hall era ended with JMU’s 69-67 loss to Villanova in the third round of the WNIT on March 23, but 10 days later, the Dukes began the process of trying to move on without their senior leader with the start of offseason workouts.

As much as JMU will miss the scoring and awe-inspiring moments Hall provided this season, coach Sean O’Regan said her intangibles are what he will miss the most.

“Her mentality in every competitive setting we had will be the hardest thing to replace,” O’Regan said. “Whenever we amped up the intensity of competition in practice, she did the same. That’s something that’s been a cornerstone of this program for a long time. ... I’ve watched it evolve year after year and there’s a chain [of players who pass it on to the next generation].”

The next player in that chain is Butler, the under-the-radar rock JMU leaned on during trying times this past season. She and classmate Hailee Barron are the only two members of this year’s rising senior class who have been at the school for three seasons.

O’Regan said Butler might not command the immediate respect Hall did because she’s not the dynamic scorer Hall is, but the Waldorf, Md., native will be the most important person during this offseason.

Butler averaged 5.7 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game in her redshirt junior season for Madison.

“Tasia and Hailee both, they’re now the senior members,” O’Regan said. “The hard part is [Butler’s] not going to have the same wow moments that [Hall] had and the instant respect [Hall] got because of those moments. She’s still vital in our progress and our success. ... She’s a crucial part of our offseason and a crucial part of the team next year.”

Hall’s teammates said the biggest lesson they learned from her was the importance of trusting one another and leaning on one another during games to survive slumps.

They credited her mindset with helping create the tight-knit group that became a source of strength for the Dukes last season.

Butler said maintaining and building upon that trust will be important in helping JMU move into the post-Hall era.

“No matter what we’re going through, what adversity, who we’re playing against, we have each other, and she’s stressed that so much this season,” Butler said. “Having our season come to an end motivates us even more to do the same and fight for each other. We all know what it feels like to lose a game and that fight just comes out more from each of us.”

Hall, who averaged 24 points per game during her final year at the school, said she knows the future is bright for this team now that opponents cannot just focus on stopping her.

She said the one thing she hopes her teammates learned from her is the passion with which she played every night.

“I just hope seeing me go out there and give it literally everything I had every minute of the game, I hope everyone does that next year,” Hall said. “Next year’s team is going to be really special. You’re not going to just have one weapon on the team. There’s not going to be one person they can hone in on the whole game.”

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