Kristen Gaudian was given the last spot in James Madison’s Class of 2018.
Fast forward five years and the JMU senior attacker is one of five finalists for the women’s Tewaaraton Trophy.
“It was pretty awesome,” Gaudian said. “I really was not expecting that. I actually looked at my phone to get a text message and saw a woman from the Tewaaraton Foundation was trying to get me to call them. I was a little confused. It’s just a great honor and it’s a great representation of our team’s success this year.”
Gaudian and JMU are peaking together, both having their best seasons in 2018, and their achievements are connected.
“It’s amazing,” said Dukes coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe. “For Kristen, it’s not only about her. It’s about the environment she’s been in. It’s a very encouraging environment. It’s team-oriented. She feels no pressure as an individual to perform on this team because she has so many individuals around her that want her to be successful because they want the team to be successful. Her fun-loving, kind of goofy personality has been set up for success here at JMU from all the people around her, and she’s really reaping the benefits.”
Gaudian has career-best marks across the board. James Madison is 19-1 overall, its best record in program history, and the third-seeded Dukes will host sixth-seeded Florida on Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals. JMU is bidding for its first final four appearance since 2000, and that goal highlights this season for Gaudian, more than anything she’s done individually.
“It’s just being a part of such a great team this year,” she said. “Being able to add to all the success we’ve been having is pretty incredible. Having the winningest record in JMU history is so incredible. As a senior class, we kind of sat down at the beginning of the season and said, we know how much potential we have and we know how much talent we have, so we’re going to work as hard as we can this year and leave it all out and show everyone we really can compete with the top teams.”
Gaudian has proven that no matter where a player starts, they can finish at the top. She didn’t even consider the possibility of being a finalist for the Tewaaraton during her career.
“I didn’t think it was possible for me to get that,” Gaudian said. “I’ve never really played to get accolades. Obviously, I knew if I worked hard enough, things would open up for me, but I don’t think I thought I’d ever be a finalist for that award.”
No college coach saw that coming five years ago despite eye-popping numbers at Lake Baddock Secondary School near her hometown Fairfax Station, Va. She scored over 300 goals in her high school career, including 100 as a senior. She also played for Capital Lacrosse Club on a team loaded with talent like Gussie Johns (USC), Kelly Myers (Stanford) and Ana Hagerup (Virginia).
“What really stood out besides her speed and her ability to not give up – she was a grinder – was her pull,” said Katie McLaughlin, who coached her Capital team. “If you ever watch Kristen dodge, it’s ridiculous. We used to call it the ‘Gaudian Pull.’ She would dodge and you just couldn’t take the ball away from her. She’s lightning fast and had this quiet intensity. She was always ready to play. There was never any drama with her. It was never ‘I want the ball more; I want more minutes.’ She was just solid top to bottom.”
The 5-foot-8 Gaudian was one of the last on her Capital team to commit to a college. That meant as time went on, fewer and fewer college coaches came to see her team play as it got later in the recruiting game.
“What happens is it’s easy to get caught up in these kids that are super flashy and athletic,” McLaughlin said. “Then there’s a whole other level of athletes like Kristen Gaudian, who you could easily miss out on when trying to get in that early recruiting process. She’s tall. She’s fast. She’s athletic, and then her attitude was so good. Why she was one of the last to get picked up, I never understood. I knew whenever she went someplace, she was going to be special. She was never going to quit, she was never going to give up, but more importantly she was always going to be a kid that would help that team chemistry.”
JMU won out, but Gaudian didn’t decide on the Dukes until January of her junior year at Lake Braddock. It was early, but she was one of the last from her Capital team to commit.
“A big aspect of it was, in my area, private schools were more prominent, and you got more looks if you went to private school,” Gaudian said. “I think me going to public school was a little step behind everyone else. I did have other offers, but I just wanted to be as patient as I possibly could because I always heard that people that committed first were the unhappiest. I think that I really wanted to make the best decision to be somewhere I knew I’d be happy all four years.”
She had cousins who played for the North Carolina men’s team and for the Virginia Tech women’s team, but she followed her aunt, Cathy Gaudian, and came to JMU, even though they couldn’t offer her more than their final roster spot.
“It was just so late,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “She was the 10th recruit. At this point, we’d exhausted all of our athletic aid. It was really just looking at the spots we had left on our roster. I thought she was somebody that might be able to help us. It was just so late in the process that I could only offer a spot on the roster.
“I knew she was a big strong athlete that had a nose for the goal,” she added. “She was somebody who was not afraid to take on numbers. She really wanted to go to goal. I valued that fearlessness in her and the risk-taking that she showed and felt like, if she was showing this kind of speed and power as a high school athlete, what could she do as a woman in the college game?”
Gaudian’s statistics have improved each season. She saw action as a freshman and sophomore, but didn’t really put up major numbers until last year.
“I think I came in and expected to do a lot,” Gaudian said. “But then I was not really doing anything because I was trying to do everything. As I got older, got more experience, gained a little more lacrosse IQ and matured a little bit on the field, that’s where my success started coming up. We had pretty incredible players my first couple years here that helped me grow my game because I was playing alongside them. That’s a big reason I’ve continued to grow every year so far.”
As a junior Gaudian had 60 points to quintuple her total from the year before, and she’s built on that this season.
“She’s optimized her potential, maximized her potential,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “When I remember watching her play for Capital, she would get the draw and she would go down and score or at least get a shot. That is who she has become at the college level, but there were so many aspects of her game that needed to develop for her to get to this point.
“As a younger player, maybe she didn’t understand when to pass out of her dodge or when to pull out of her dodge so they would be charges. She might not have a sense of her feet underneath her to slow down and get a little more balance before she took a shot and it was just a high-to-high shot right at the goalie. Her composure level, her balance and coordination and her ability to slow the moment down has all come to her now. She’s a woman among girls out there. Her wrist control, her strength in her wrists, allows her to finish big plays on the draw, on ground balls and around the net. She’s just able to hold off a tremendous amount of defensive pressure and still make the play because of her strength.”
In her senior year, Gaudian leads JMU with 86 points on a team-high 71 goals to go with 15 assists. She leads the country in shooting percentage at a career-best .651 (her freshman year she shot .286 and she shot .440 as a sophomore). Gaudian set a single-season record with 26 free-position goals and has a JMU career-record 44. She’s also second on the team with 73 draw controls, up a whopping 60 from a year ago.
“Because of her size, athleticism, strength and power, she just makes very big feats like draw controls and goals look really easy,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “The big thing that we are really focusing in on with her is her confidence. She’s seeing so many different types of defense come at her, whether it’s a faceguard or an early double, and she’s confident to play through her mistakes and still put up great numbers. I think it’s her comfortability with herself and her teammates around her that she’s willing to play through her mistakes.”
Four of Gaudian’s goals have been game-winners, and she had the tying and go-ahead goals in JMU’s come-from-behind 15-12 win over Virginia in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday. She finished with four goals and was second on the team with six draw controls. Elena Romesburg had a team-high seven draw controls and three goals, and Katie Kerrigan’s three assists took JMU’s single-season assist record to 52. Gaudian and the Dukes are determined to start faster against Florida and keep their special season going.
“There’s just a different feeling of support that everyone has for each other,” Gaudian said. “The chemistry that we have on the field and off the field makes for great connections on the field. We actually enjoy being with each other all the time, and I think that’s really important. I don’t think every team always has that. I also think we have really incredible assistant coaches this year. Bringing in Colleen [Shearer] from UVA, she’s been a great impact on our program this year. Our senior class is really strong, and we have a big senior class, so we’ve been able to impact the team to keep the energy up all throughout the entire season.”
Gaudian has been one of the leaders for JMU, and being a Tewaaraton finalist recognizes her contributions and development over the last four years. She is among a group of award finalists that come from a mix of pedigrees.
Maryland’s Megan Whittle and North Carolina’s Marie McCool were Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in Inside Lacrosse’s Top 50 Incoming Freshmen in 2014. Stony Brook’s Kylie Ohlmiller came in overlooked after an injury cost her her sophomore season of high school, and was the last to sign with a school from her club team as well. Boston College’s Sam Apuzzo was the No. 11 recruit in the Incoming Freshmen of 2015, and was cut from the U.S. under-19 women’s national team, only serving as an alternate.
“You really have to believe in yourself,” Gaudian said. “As cliché as it sounds, other people aren’t always going to believe in how good you are. If you keep working on it, working on all your skills, working every day, trying to get better every single day, I think that’s so important. Going out to practice and saying, ‘I need to do this better today so I can do this better on game day,’ it’s great. It just shows that people can be surprised, and people grow at different times.”
Like the other four finalists, Kristen Gaudian is hoping she has a couple of weekends of college left, and then all she has to decide on is what to wear to the Tewaaraton Award ceremony on May 31 in Washington, D.C.
“I really haven’t looked into it yet,” she said. “I guess I should start.”