Oct. 6, 2011
By Matt Muzza, Navy Sports Information
Coming off back-to-back Patriot League Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, legendary head coach Cindy Timchal has promptly placed the Navy women's lacrosse team on the national scene. However, there is much more to the program than wins and losses; the team is filled with model Midshipmen who excel in all aspects of the Naval Academy.
One of the many impressive women's lacrosse players is senior Kierstin King. The 2010 All-American is Navy's defensive on-the-field leader and also an inspirational student that has proven hard work in the classroom pays off.
Although King recently made her second appearance on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll, her academic success is not something she takes for granted.
By her own account, the Upperco, Md. native did not get off to the best of starts academically at the Naval Academy, as she completed her plebe year with a 2.4 cumulative GPA. Although she was certainly in good academic standing, the former two-time U.S. Lacrosse Academic All-American at Hereford High School knows grades are very important at the ultra-competitive Naval Academy.
"When you're a plebe, you're just trying to make it through the year, and sometimes academics can be pushed aside," said King. "After my freshman year, I looked at my grades and realized I had to reevaluate myself and work harder. At that point, I didn't know what I wanted to service select and I didn't want to shut any doors, knowing that these grades would ultimately determine my career."
As a sophomore, King brought a new determination to her academics. She developed a better handle on managing the busy schedule of a varsity athlete at the Naval Academy and improved her study habits. With a number of plebe responsibilities now behind her, she was able to devote more time to her coursework.
King's GPA showed measureable progress immediately. She earned a 2.9 in the fall of her sophomore year and followed that with a 3.4 in the spring.
Not one to be complacent, King continued to put forth her full dedication to her coursework during her junior year. The oceanography major reached new heights in the fall semester, earning a perfect 4.0 GPA.
When the lacrosse team is in season in the spring, King's obligations increase, but one would not have been able to tell from her GPA. Another 4.0 in the spring semester capped off a perfect junior year in which King earned straight A's.
"It was rewarding to know that if you put in the effort, you can do it," King said. "It was definitely hard work and a lot of extra hours, but it was great to see it pay off."
King's Academic Order of Merit ranking skyrocketed from the lower quarter of her class as a freshman, to the upper third heading into her senior year, increasing her rank by nearly 600 spots. King now holds a 3.2 cumulative GPA and an even more impressive 3.9 GPA in her major of oceanography.
As her grades continue to rise, King is hopeful that she will get her top choice for her service selection. King is eyeing a career as a surface warfare office working in Naval Oceanography and Meteorology (MetOc), where she would be dealing with all the meteorology and oceanography undertakings of a specific ship.
With commissioning just months away, a Naval career partially inspired by her father will soon come to fruition. King's father, Jeffrey, was a 26-year enlisted member of the Navy's Construction Battalion and she always had positive feelings towards her father's Navy career.
"He has always had great relationships with his military friends and we even had some of them living with us for a while," King said. "I've always seen that closeness and knew that I wanted that as well. When I came to the Academy, I felt that the people here, and especially the women's lacrosse team, were always willing to help you. That was something that really drew me in to coming."
As King was being recruited by Timchal out of high school, she became increasingly sold on attending the Academy, but there was one last thing holding her back from receiving an appointment: her SAT score. King's first attempt was 50 points shy of what she needed.
King retook the SATs, knowing what was on the line, and increased her previous score by 50 points, the exact amount she needed to secure an appointment.
"So many things seemed to be working into place," King reflected. "I just knew that the Academy would be the right place for me."
King surely has been a perfect fit at the Academy, and while during her time in Annapolis she has shown a great aptitude for growth in the classroom, that same trait was not initially needed on the lacrosse field.
A starting midfielder since her first game as a freshman in 2009, King scored 19 goals and ranked second on the team with 2.33 ground balls per game. Her play helped Navy make its first Patriot League Championship appearance in just the program's second year.
Although King had a successful freshman season in the midfield, her role would change heading into her sophomore year. The coaching staff decided to move her from midfield to defense.
"We were giving up too many goals and we really wanted to have a stronger defense," Timchal said of the position change. "As the recruiting process unfolded, we knew we could play to Kierstin's strengths and have her focus solely on her defensive abilities."
To say that King adapted well to her new position on defense would be an understatement. Over the first 15 games of the season, King helped Navy to a 13-2 record while grabbing 41 ground balls and causing 25 turnovers.
Unfortunately, those first 15 games would be all that King would play in 2010. While preparing for a key Patriot League contest against Lehigh, King suffered a season-ending ACL injury in a team practice.
Despite the loss of King, Navy went on to win the Patriot League Championship, as well as the NCAA Play-In game, and made the program's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. And even though King missed Navy's final six games, her contributions to Navy's success in 2010 did not go unnoticed. WomensLacrosse.com named her a Third-Team All-American and she was also selected to the All-Patriot League Second Team.
However difficult it was to watch her team from the sidelines on their championship run, King kept a positive attitude and stayed focused on her recovery from ACL surgery. Using the same kind of determination that helped her make such a drastic improvement to her GPA, King was able to successfully rehab her knee and return to form for her junior season in 2011.
Without missing a beat, King once again excelled on Navy's defense. She earned All-Patriot League First-Team honors after leading the team with 34 ground balls and causing 15 turnovers. And when the Mids returned to the Patriot League Tournament in 2011, King was more than ready to make up for lost time after missing the postseason the previous year.
Navy drew Lehigh in the semifinals, a team that just defeated the Mids in Annapolis a week earlier in the regular season finale. After a back-and-forth battle in the first half, Navy was able to open up a 9-4 lead early in the second half. However, Navy's offense stalled after struggling to keep possession.
Lehigh fought right back, scoring four straight goals to make it a one-goal game at 9-8. With under a minute to go, the Mountain Hawks had possession and it appeared they would have an opportunity to tie the game on a final shot.
That's when King came through in the clutch, forcing a turnover with 48 seconds left in the game to give possession back to Navy. Navy ran down the clock and Caitlin Mandrin Hill added an empty-net goal at the final buzzer and the Mids advanced to their third consecutive league championship with a 10-8 win.
"It was only fitting that Kierstin would be the one to make that big play when we needed her the most," Timchal said. "It must have been like living out a dream to have a chance the next year to be on the field and help the team play for another Patriot League title after missing the 2010 tournament."
The win over Lehigh set up a battle with host Colgate for the league crown two days later.
Unlike the previous game, Navy fell behind early, as Colgate jumped out to a 4-2 edge and then increased the margin to 9-6 at halftime. After scoring the first two goals of the second half, Colgate led 11-6 and Navy's hopes of repeating as league champions were dimming.
However, the Mids proved they would not go down without a fight. Navy scored two straight goals, but after going back-and-forth with Colgate, the team was still looking at a 14-10 deficit with 15 minutes to play.
After scoring four goals in six minutes, the Navy offense was starting to pull it together, but Navy would also need its defense to shut Colgate down for any hope to overcome the four-goal deficit. Over the game's final 15 minutes, shutting down the Colgate attack is exactly what the King-led defense did.
With Mandrin Hill and Jasmine DePompeo scoring goals on the offensive end, it was King, fellow defenders Dominique Wright and Abby Ellis and goalie Michelle Verbeeck that put up the wall in Navy's defensive zone with a collection of caused turnovers, ground balls, saves and draw controls.
The Mids exploded for a 5-0 run and Katrina Nietsch scored the game-winning goal with 28 seconds left to pull off the improbable comeback and clinch back-to-back Patriot League titles.
King's outstanding play on the defensive end earned her Patriot League All-Tournament honors. After watching the 2010 Patriot League Tournament from the sidelines, she made a huge impact on the field to help Navy capture the 2011 league crown.
"I just wanted to take advantage of the situation after missing out on playing in the tournament the previous year," King said. "It was a great opportunity and I knew I just needed to go hard and not take anything for granted because our season could have ended right there."
Navy's season continued with the NCAA Play-In game, where the team routed Quinnipiac, 20-5. In addition to helping the team's defense hold its 12th opponent of the season to under 10 goals, King grabbed two ground balls. The win punched Navy's ticket to the NCAA First Round, where the Mids would draw eventual national runner-up Maryland, falling to the top-ranked Terrapins, 19-6.
King gained valuable experience as the defensive leader on an NCAA Tournament team in 2011 and that will carry over into her senior year as Navy looks for its third straight league championship. Also, just 13 ground balls shy of Mandrin Hill's school record, King will also likely graduate as the school's all-time leader in the category.
In playing such a big role in Navy's 2011 championship season, while also earning a perfect 4.0 GPA for her entire junior year, King is a prime example of a model student-athlete at the U.S. Naval Academy, and she has remained diligent no matter what stands in her way. She has seen her hard work pay off in the classroom and used the same determination to make a difference on the lacrosse field after battling back from injury.
"Kierstin is a young woman that really exemplifies what the Naval Academy is all about," Timchal said of her four-year starter. "She has stepped it up in the classroom, while also stepping it up on the lacrosse field, and it has really all come together for Kierstin at the Naval Academy."