JMU's M'Kaela White, shown in 2017, played with the USA Collegiate National Team in Anaheim, Calif., during the summer

HARRISONBURG — James Madison volleyball coach Lauren Steinbrecher knows not to shy away from a tough non-conference schedule.

And, as usual, with the Dukes preparing to open the 2019 season, JMU should be well tested by the time Colonial Athletic Association play begins.

“Our preseason schedule is tougher than I ever scheduled it,” Steinbrecher said. “We don’t have any easy matchups.”

Friday, JMU travels to Blacksburg for an exhibition against Virginia Tech, but the season begins for real a week later in what could prove to be the Dukes’ toughest match of the season against No. 22 Washington State in the opening match of the JMU Invitational.

The Dukes will also take on Stony Brook and Iowa in the season-opening round robin before continuing with a non-conference schedule that also includes contests against Furman, Long Beach State, Florida, South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth.

“We’re excited to open with a team the caliber of Washington State, especially at home,” Steinbrecher said. “Our schedule will definitely be a challenge in the preseason. We definitely did it intentionally because our senior class is strong. We usually schedule three or four matches I’m pretty confident we can win and maybe get some more people on the court. This year, everyone is top three or four in their conference, except for Iowa, but they're Big Ten.”

Yes, the Big Ten Conference, which featured five teams in the Top 10 of the preseason polls.

The tough schedule may mean a little less early playing time for younger Dukes, but after going 22-7 last regular season before losing in five sets to Hofstra in the CAA championship, Madison is looking to ride a strong senior class to a conference title this time around.

Back are setter Sarah Martin and outside hitter Briley Brind’Amour to add some stability for the Dukes, but once again JMU’s firepower centers on middle blocker M’Kaela White, the 6-foot-4 senior who earned first-team All-CAA honors last fall.

White played with the USA Collegiate National Team in Anaheim, Calif., during the summer, a group of select college players who trained against the US national team. Steinbrecher said the experience did nothing but help her best player get even better.

“I’m really excited about our senior class,” Steinbrecher said. “They’ve shown a lot of leadership and so we came in better than we were in the spring, which is really hard to do over the summer. We’re not super deep, so if we have any injuries we might struggle, but I’m excited about where we are.”

Contact Shane Mettlen at 574-6244 or smettlen@dnronline.com. Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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