Oct. 27, 2008
Naval Academy senior lacrosse defender Margaret Gardner is having a unique first semester of her final year at the Naval Academy. Instead of spending the fall taking classes and getting ready for the lacrosse season with her teammates, Gardner has been studying overseas at la Escuela Naval Militar (The Spanish Naval Academy), which is in the little town of Marín in Northern Spain.
Gardner, who is a political science major with a minor in Spanish, and two other midshipmen (Al Perry and Dave Greenberg) are spending the semester in Spain as part of the Naval Academy's Language Studies Department's Study Abroad program. The Language Studies Department offers study abroad programs in all languages taught at the Naval Academy and the programs are open to all Midshipmen except plebes.
"My time here in Spain has definitely been a challenge," said Gardner. "I speak Spanish all day in school, so I'm always having to think about what I'm going to say. The school is a lot like Annapolis, though smaller (300 students). We go to class all day and then in the afternoon they have a sports period where people will run or play soccer."
Gardner has used that sports time to try and stay in shape for the lacrosse season. She has even taught some of the males at the school how to play lacrosse so she would have somebody to play catch with.
"I brought some sticks and balls over here and I have been teaching them how to play. Nobody here had even heard of lacrosse so it has been a challenge to team them the game, but I've taught a few people enough where I can at least play catch with them."
Gardner is quick with an answer when asked what she misses most about being away from the Naval Academy.
"I miss my team," laughed Gardner. "The lacrosse team is so close and I just miss that camaraderie we have. My dad went to every fall scrimmage and he would call me after the games to let me know what happened. It sounded like we played really well in the fall, so I'm excited to get back in January and start working out with them."
Gardner comes from a long line of Naval Academy graduates. Her father, Tommy, is a retired Navy captain and a 1976 graduate of the Naval Academy, where he was a three-year letterwinner on the football team. Her uncle, Craig Scott, also graduated from the Academy in 1976, while a cousin, Charlie Scott, graduated in 2008.
"Growing up I always wanted to be a pilot and there is not a better place to become a pilot than the Naval Academy," said Gardner. "My family never pushed me to go here, but I knew they were proud when I told them that this is where I wanted to go to school."
Gardner was a four-sport athlete at Chantilly High School in Virginia before coming to the Naval Academy.
Once in Annapolis, Gardner was happy playing club lacrosse with her friends and going to school, where she would compile a 3.38-grade point average, including a 4.0 last spring.
But something happened on August 5, 2006, that would change her Naval Academy experience. Legendary Maryland lacrosse coach Cindy Timchal was hired by Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk and it was announced that women's lacrosse would become a varsity sport in the spring of 2008, Gardner's junior year.
"I will never forget that day," said Gardner. "It was exciting enough to learn that we were going to become a varsity sport, but to find out that Cindy Timchal was going to be our coach was amazing. I think it really pumped all of us up to work even harder."
With Timchal at the helm, the women's lacrosse team turned in an 18-5 record in its final season as a club program and advanced to the club National Championship game where it lost to Cal Poly, 16-9. Gardner saw significant action on a defense that held the opposition to just 9.2 goals per game.
"I think that first year with Coach Timchal and her staff was a real eye-opener for the team," said Gardner. "Even though we were still a club team, they started treating it like a varsity program and the time commitment was much greater. I think getting that year under our belt really helped us last year when we became a varsity sport."
If August 5, 2006, is a day that Gardner will never forget, then February 23, 2008 has to be a close second. That is the day the Navy women's lacrosse team played its first NCAA sanctioned varsity competition against Longwood University at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I remember everything about that day," said Gardner. "I remember running out to mid-field and hearing the PA announcer say my name and I remember standing there with my best friends during the national anthem and I thought I was living a dream. I just never imagined that I would be playing on the same field that my father played on. He was at the game and it was really cool to think that we were playing in the same stadium that he played."
"I was crying for most of the game," said Mr. Gardner. "People would look over at me and I just couldn't stop crying. It was very nostalgic for me to see my daughter playing in the same stadium that I played. It brought back a lot of memories for me. The bond of varsity athletics has lasted a lifetime for me and I know it will last a lifetime for her."
Navy defeated Longwood that day, 21-10, and Gardner came up with the first draw control and first ground ball in school history.
Navy finished the 2004 campaign with a 13-4 record. The 13 wins are the most in NCAA history for a first-year women's lacrosse program and the Mids were a perfect 11-0 at home. Navy accomplished all that with one of the youngest teams in the country with 23 freshmen or sophomores on the roster.
"I am really excited about this year," said Gardner. "I think we learned a lot last year and I expect us to compete for a Patriot League Championship. Making the NCAA Tournament would be a great ending to my career at the Naval Academy."