For Shannon Quinlan, the season could not have started any worse.
Or ended any better.
The James Madison University senior, who plays attack for the JMU women’s lacrosse team, went down with a season-ending injury in the second game of the season back in February.
But she was still along for a magical ride as the Dukes shocked the lacrosse world by capturing the 2018 NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse championship last month.
Most importantly, between the start and end, the 2014 Wilton High graduate learned some valuable life lessons.
“It was definitely tough,” said Quinlan, who didn’t let her injury keep her from supporting the team in whatever way she could. “I think that we contributed at practice by encouraging our teammates and being team leaders.”
She said she learned that success was a team effort, from the starters down to the scout team, coaches and injured players — everyone involved with the team played a part.
“Having everyone have a positive attitude definitely paid off,” she said.
Having never been injured, Quinlan said being sidelined gave her a new perspective on the game, and life.
“It was eye opening. Not only did it make me a lot tougher as a person, but I learned to understand what my teammates with ACL injuries have to go through,” she said. “It made me so much stronger.”
Quinlan was a four-year varsity player at Wilton, part of WHS teams that reached the state finals four years in a row, winning two titles. She was a senior on the 2014 state championship team, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to beat New Canaan.
At JMU, she had seen some action over her previous three season. She had played in eight games as a junior, scoring six goals, and was excited to play a bigger role this spring.
But in the team’s second game, she was injured on a free-position attempt when a pair of opposing defenders came down on her foot after her shot. She suffered an injury to the Lisfranc joint complex, which includes the bones and ligaments that connect the midfoot and forefoot.
At first, there was hope she might be back later in the season. But then came the verdict: her season was over. She spent three months in a cast and on crutches.
Amid the disappointment, however, her team was rising up the national rankings.
James Madison was coming off a 14-7 season in 2017 that saw it win the Colonial Athletic Association and finish 16th in the country.
The Dukes were ranked 17th in this year’s preseason poll, but moved up to fourth in the country by the end of March. JMU ended the regular season with 17-16 overtime win over sixth-ranked Towson, and then won the CAA title game with a 16-10 win over Towson on May 6.
That left the Dukes with an 18-1 record — the only loss coming in March to Maryland, which earned the top seed for the NCAA tournament.
JMU was awarded the third seed for the NCAA tourney, but Quinlan and her teammates got the sense that no one was giving them much of a chance — which only provided the players with extra motivation.
“I think everyone kind of doubted us. One of our goals was to make it to the Final Four. We had beaten a lot of these teams,” she said. “We took it one game at a time. Once we got past the conference championship, we were like, ‘wow, this is for real’.”
What followed was wins over Virginia and No. 6 Florida, which advanced JMU to the NCAA semifinals for only the second time in program history.
The Final Four was played at Stony Brook on Long Island. The Dukes scored a 15-12 win over No. 4 North Carolina in the semifinals to advance to the national finals for the first time ever. As had been the case all season, the Dukes were all business at practice, at film sessions and on game day.
“It didn’t feel like a championship. It felt like another game for us,” Quinlan said.
In the national title game on May 27, JMU pulled out a wild 16-15 win No. 3 Boston College for the school’s first-ever national title in women’s lacrosse.
“It was awesome,” said Quinlan, who made sure to be part of the pile of JMU players at the end of the game, injured or not. “My trainer told me not to run. I was limping my way across the field as fast as I could.”
The Dukes finished with a school-record for victories at 22-1. It marked the first time since 1990 that a team not named Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Northwestern or Princeton had won the national championship.
JMU’s senior class ended their collegiate careers with a 61-23 record, including three conference championships and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Quinlan’s JMU career, however, is not over.
Shortly after she was injured, her coach, Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, offered Quinlan a chance to come back and play in 2019 as a medical redshirt. With eight starters gone, her leadership and experience would be needed as the Dukes rebuild for another title run.
After some soul-searching about whether to accept a job or come back for another year, Quinlan decided to return as a fifth-year senior. What was once a lost season had now opened up the opportunity to be part of something special, once again.
“God had a plan. It worked out,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back. It’s given me the utmost hope for next year. I’ve never been more excited to play the sport than I am now.”
Notes: Quinlan scored 133 career goals while playing for Wilton.
She was also an all-state and all-New England sprinter for the Warriors, and still holds the school indoor records for 55 meters and 300 meters.