The voice of JMU women’s basketball

Craig Orndorff, of Edinburg, sits along press row during the Colonial Athletic Association Conference Tournament quarterfinals at James Madison University on Mar. 9. Orndorff took over as the voice of JMU's women's basketball, giving play-by-play announcing on the JMU/Sprint Broadcast Network. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — For many years Craig Orndorff has been the voice of high school sports in Shenandoah County. Now Orndorff is also the voice of James Madison University women’s basketball.

The Edinburg resident took over as the radio play-by-play announcer for the JMU/Sprint Broadcast Network, which is run by Learfield’s JMU Sports Properties, this season after longtime announcer David Taylor retired last March.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Orndorff said in an interview last week. “I’m enjoying the quality of the basketball.”

Orndorff, who is a 1990 JMU graduate, said he was hired about a month before the women’s basketball season started and said he had about three weeks to get familiar with the team.

Orndorff said it’s been an easy transition for him, and said he’s had some people say that his style is a lot like Taylor’s.

Orndorff said he had always looked up to Taylor,  and talked to him about the job.

“He basically said you’re going to love the job. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Orndorff said. “And he’s right, it has been a lot of fun.”

Orndorff, a Central High School graduate, said he first started in broadcasting after his freshman year at JMU. He got a job at former Woodstock radio station WAMM on the weekends.

He said that they also had an opening to broadcast Central High School sports and so he took that. He’s been doing it ever since for various radio stations and all three Shenandoah County High Schools over the years.

He said he was a little worried about doing college sports since he had only done high schools, but he said it hasn’t been a hard adjustment.

Orndorff said when he calls them he tries to call them just like he has the Shenandoah County games.

The Dukes lost in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final over the weekend, but will play in the NCAA Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The Dukes host Radford University at 7 p.m. Friday. The Dukes are 24-8 on the season.

JMU lost three starters from last year’s squad and their coach as Kenny Brooks took the job at Virginia Tech. Sean O’Regan moved from assistant coach to head coach. However, the Dukes lost Kayla Cooper-Williams to injury in the preseason, and had another player leave the team for personal reasons.

Orndorff said he’s enjoyed seeing the young team with only one senior transform into the team they’ve become.

“It’s been neat to watch the team develop and see how they’ve come together when they really could have fallen apart,” Orndorff said. “They have a potential All-American player in Precious (Hall) who can be the glue while some of the younger players can learn and decide what their roles are going to be.

“From the basketball point of view it’s been good to see them learn as the season’s gone on. For me, it’s been great to be along for the ride and go along to places they get to go to, like Cancun.”

Orndorff said he travels with the team about 50 percent of the time, because they usually leave a day early and sometimes he has plans. If he doesn’t go with the team, he said he’ll arrange it with the university so that he can drive or sometimes fly to the away games by himself.

He said JMU’s trip to Cancun over Thanksgiving was one of the highlights of the season for him.

Orndorff said there were many other memorable moments, including the Dukes’ double-overtime win over Rutgers on Dec. 5. The game featured two buzzer-beaters and Hall scored a career high 46 points for the Dukes. He said there have also been many memorable moments going to dinner with the team, or even playing H-O-R-S-E with the coaches before practice. Although he said he hasn’t beaten them yet.

He said on a trip to New York he saw late night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon heading to his studio. Orndorff said another highlight was the first game of the season, JMU’s 81-69 home loss to the University of Tennessee.

“It was a big crowd, but there was a high school football game – Spotswood and (Fort Defiance) were playing in first round of playoffs,” Orndorff said. “(JMU) football was away at Villanova, men’s basketball was away, still it was a good crowd. It was exciting. It was a good game too. JMU should have won. It was the first game and it was exciting.”

Orndorff, who is by himself for the JMU broadcasts, said he usually spends most of the day before a game prepping for it. He said he usually tries to find out as much information as he can about JMU’s opponent to help him for his broadcast.

Orndorff also owns Valley Sports Radio, a web site dedicated to high school and college sports throughout the Shenandoah Valley. There are links there to his high school radio broadcasts for WSVG 790 AM, where he was joined this season by Central High School student Kyle Gutshall.

Orndorff also does sports reports for five different radio stations, four of them are daily reports and one is a weekly report.

On top of that, Orndorff also has his own syndicated weekly music show, “Seems Like Old Times,” which features classic pop hits from the big band era all the up to the pop era. He said it includes songs from the 1950s and early 1960s and other standards and current day artists like Michael Buble and Diana Krall.

Orndorff said he also did the radio broadcast for JMU men’s basketball game at Western Michigan, filling in for  men’s basketball radio announcer Dave Thomas.

As his first season doing radio for JMU women’s basketball winds down, Orndorff said that he hopes that the fans enjoy his broadcasts, and he would love to keep doing it for years to come.

“I’ve always wanted to be that steady voice for a school, for even high school like I have been here,” Orndorff said. “So If I can do for that women’s basketball the way David Taylor was I’d be happy with that.”

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