March 12, 2012
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Each day this week, a member of the Navy women's basketball team will chronicle their thoughts for NavySports.com in Navy's run-up to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Stefanie Pemper discusses characteristics of this year's 2012 Patriot League champions in the first entry of the series.
Everyone makes assumptions. Assumptions that young women who choose to attend the United States Naval Academy are something. Something like hard working, disciplined and good at following orders. So what happens when you tell them they can't do push-ups for making a mistake? That they can't physically put a mistake behind them, they have to mentally overcome it? What happens when you tell them that the game of basketball has concepts that work, except when your opponent says otherwise? That sometimes you have to let your hair down and make a play. And mostly what happens when the other team makes a run and they look to you as their coach for a timeout, or a play call, and you say and do nothing but smile back at them as if to say, "You got this."
What happens? A championship.
In the textbooks and novels on successful military operations, is there a chapter on luck? I imagine there could be a great one. Saturday night for our group of future officers there was. It came in the reliable hands of sophomore center Jade Geif. Clinging to a five-point lead with 2:37 remaining in the game, her analytical classmate Alix Membreno decided not to give her the ball when she was open--and when her coach encouraged--but instead made us use 12 precious seconds of shot clock and a complicated ball screen, to finally get it to her. Jade then bypassed a 6-foot defender to take on a 6'2" defender, and did two things unusual for her: she took two dribbles that actually got somewhere, and she shot a 14-footer. Four perfect-military-precision bounces on the rim later, the ball feel threw the net, along with our opponents' hopes. It was more then beautiful improvisation; the basketball gods had spoken.
One thing you need to know about me is I drink decaf. Second, and more controversial, is that I work for the Navy but am inspired by an existentialist quote about being shipwrecked. To paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard, "To live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life."
The 2012 season has not been smooth sailing for this Navy team, but Saturday night Jade's basket, and our team's strength, friendship, and maturity, got us to our safe harbor: a second consecutive Patriot League championship.
Our team is a wonderful collection of individuals with varying histories, talents, beliefs, and personalities. The uniform they wear every day unites them for a very important cause; it can't reflect their personal stories, but they are there and they are lovely. Assumptions aside, what these Naval Academy women do well is trust in the leadership of their coaches, stay focused on improving regardless of results, have fun, and embrace big challenges. We have the biggest challenge of all this week: beating a team that will be taller, faster, and more talented.
Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.