Loren Messick LaPorte was a biology major at Roanoke College.
She ended up with a much different career.
Now in her second season as the head softball coach at James Madison, she has led the Dukes to the NCAA Super Regionals for just the second time in school history.
On Monday, visiting JMU beat Michigan twice in the finals of the NCAA tournament’s Ann Arbor Regional.
“It was a pretty exciting time, something I’ll never forget,” LaPorte said. “Probably the best moment of my coaching career.”
After assisting at Roanoke, her alma mater, she joined Radford coach Mickey Dean as an assistant with the Highlanders.
Dean said LaPorte was always eager to learn.
“When you have somebody young like that that’s willing to put in the time and willing to learn and work, work, work, you know you’ve got a good one,” Dean said.
When Dean left Radford to become JMU’s coach in the summer of 2012, he brought LaPorte with him.
In 2013, JMU began a string of seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. That was the same year she married former Roanoke College basketball player Josh LaPorte.
The Dukes advanced to the Super Regionals for the first time in 2016. That team featured two stars who shined as both pitchers and hitters — Megan Good and Bath County graduate Jailyn Ford.
Dean left JMU in September 2017 to become the coach of Auburn. He recommended that LaPorte succeed him.
“The players relate to her really well,” Dean said. “She had that ability to look at a player and really see what their potential was. She had a way of getting that potential out of that player without causing them to feel uncomfortable but pushing them in their limits.”
LaPorte was named the interim head coach for the 2018 season. She did so well that she was named the 2018 Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year. The Dukes won 43 games and made the NCAAs.
She was rewarded with the permanent head-coaching role last June.
This year, the CAA champion Dukes (51-8) boast the pitching and hitting talents of two-way stars Good and Odicci Alexander.
Despite being ranked No. 14 in the RPI on Selection Sunday, JMU was not one of the 16 teams chosen to host an NCAA regional.
JMU went 4-1 to win the four-team Ann Arbor Regional. Michigan, the No. 15 overall seed in the tournament, was the only one of the 16 seeds that did not advance to the Super Regionals.
The Dukes will visit UCLA (49-6), the No. 2 overall seed, in a best-of-three Super Regional series beginning Friday. A berth to the Women’s College World Series will be at stake.
“We have great ballplayers, but when you can get the team to love being around each other … and really jell and have that good chemistry, I think that’s why this team reminds me so much of that 2016 [JMU] team,” said LaPorte. “This team just wants to be together.”