When I first moved to Annapolis, I decided I needed to take up a water sport - sailing, boating, and the like are big here, but I was interested in something else: rowing. I found out that during the summer, the U.S. Naval Academy offers a week-long camp for women of all ages to be coached by Navy rowing coaches, row at the Navy boathouse, and workout at the Navy gym. (You could also stay in Navy dorms, which I declined to do, and eat at the Navy mess hall, which I did once just for the experience.) For whatever reason, one thing that stuck with me from the week was the women's rowing team's locker room: it was exactly like any other college women's locker room I'd ever been in. Beauty products everywhere, silly photos, inspirational messages in glitter pen. Obviously not every high school girl wants to - or can - choose a service academy and a future career in the military. But the ones that do - well, they're still college students.
Once I decided to go see American's women's team take on Navy's for this challenge, I intended to write a recap of the game that wasn't much different from what I write about men's games. It hasn't escaped my attention that, so far as I can tell, I'm the only woman who regularly contributes to the site and one of only a handful whose writing has ever appeared here. But I also didn't feel like I had anything particularly insightful to say about women's mid-major basketball (not that I have insightful things to say about men's mid-major basketball!) just as a result of my own gender.
Then, when I was in the car on the winding, dark back roads between my house and the Naval Academy, I heard on the radio that Secretary of Defense Panetta was going to announce a lifting of the combat exclusion policy - permitting women to be officially assigned to front-line positions and compensated and promoted as such. One step closer to eliminating the "brass ceiling," maybe? I'm no expert on the structure of our military, but of course I immediately thought of the Navy players I was about to see - what would this mean for their careers, their ambitions, their self-perceptions? Anything? Or was this just a case of the rules finally catching up with reality (since, of course, military women are already attached to ground combat units)?
I don't think I need to tell you that a basketball game did not, in fact, provide answers to these questions.
In my pregame reading, I learned that Navy had won the Patriot League tournament the past two years in a row, leading to Navy's only two NCAA tournament appearances. However, I also saw that this year's Midshipmen (yes, the women are called that too) were only 9-9, and were coming off an 11-point loss at rival Army.
What I missed was that the same player had been named the MVP of both tournaments: Jade Geif.
When I looked her up after the game, though, it came as no surprise. A 6'0" junior, it was Geif who allowed Navy to win on a night when the Mids were uncharacteristically weak from three (2-16...ouch). In part, that's because she took on a big part of the offensive load and was extremely efficient, scoring 16 points on only 10 field goal attempts. Perhaps even more important than anything that showed up on her (impressive) stat sheet, though, was that she played an important role in helping her teammates break American's press. Although Navy jumped out to an 8-point lead midway through the first half and held the lead for most of the rest of the game, it was American's extended defense that gave them their few chances to get back in the game. The lack of the 10-second rule in the women's game impacts a team's strategy in using (and breaking) the press, I would imagine, but when you have a tall, experienced, and steady-handed player to help out your guards, that has got to help no matter what. Geif fit the bill perfectly.
Oh, and in case you're wondering if Geif's defense had anything to do with holding American to 42 points, check out her elbow during the post-game interview.
Geif's media guide bio lists her Military Service Interest as Marine Corps - Ground. That's one of the primary areas I understand could be impacted by the lifting of the combat exclusion policy. However, when I think back to the Navy women's rowing team's locker room, and to my own reaction (shrug) as a law student to the studies about the underrepresentation of women in law firm partnerships, I suspect I know how remote those kinds of things must feel to her right now. I guess that's one question answered.