O’Regan ready to take reigns of JMU’s women’s basketball team

HARRISONBURG — Things are a little different for first-year James Madison University head coach Sean O’Regan this season.

After spending nine years as an assistant coach under former JMU coach Kenny Brooks, O’Regan is now in charge.

“I think probably the biggest difference is when you go home at night it doesn’t leave you for a second,” O’Regan said in a news conference this week. “When you wake up in the morning as an assistant sometimes you can fade away for a little bit, but (as a head coach) you’re constantly thinking about how you’re going to improve the team and what else you can do. We should put in this player. We should put in this zone.”

The Dukes open their season at 7 tonight as they host national powerhouse University of Tennessee. The Volunteers are ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25 poll.

O’Regan said when he first took over the job the Dukes needed five games, so he decided to call Tennessee and see if they were interested. He said it was actually their idea to come play at JMU to start the season. The Dukes also play at No. 12 ranked Florida State on Nov. 20.

He said he’s really looking forward to playing Tennessee.

“I think its’ great for us,” O’Regan said. “Clearly there’s a target for our team we’re focused on. What they need to know is it’s not whether we win or lose against Tennessee. It does not make our season. You got 30 games and you got more important games than that, but it will really prepare us I think for where we want to go.”

The Dukes may be without 6-foot-2 sophomore center Kayla Cooper-Williams, who suffered an injury recently.

One player the Dukes are happy to have back is 5-foot-8 senior guard Precious Hall, who missed all of last season due to injury. Hall was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year as a junior two years ago.

O’Regan said that Hall is completely healthy, and that her biggest obstacle back will be a mental aspect.

“I think if anything she’s putting too much pressure on herself, but the injury is zero percent of the issue,” O’Regan said. “I think it’s just the pressure of her wanting to be as good as she can be. She does that. She’s an emotional young lady and she wants to be great. She wants to play at the next level.

“I’ve been really happy with her determination and basically her will to take us where we want to go.”

Da’Lisha Griffin is the team’s top returning scorer from a year ago, having averaged 6.6 points per contest.

O’Regan said that the Dukes’ three freshmen, guard Lexie Barrier, and forwards Kamiah Smalls and Devon Merritt, have all shown progress and could really help the team this season.

The Dukes went 27-6 last year, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. O’Regan said the biggest thing the team needs to do is to build its team chemistry.

“We’ve come a long way, and we’ve got a long way to go,” O’Regan said. “Just the youthfulness of our team and really coming together. And that’s what I’ve focused on in maybe the last week and a half is that OK our skills are there, but we really need to come together as a team.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com