In the speech he never gave at the Dallas Trade Mart on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, a Navy man, was to utter these words:
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
Kierstin King, a Navy woman, has lived those words in her four years at the U.S. Naval Academy and on its lacrosse team.
A senior team captain, an All-Patriot League performer on the field and in the classroom, and the five-year-old program’s career leader with 71 starts, King epitomizes leadership as so many Naval Academy students do.
One of the Patriot League’s top defenders, King is Navy’s all-time leader with 150 ground balls. Her efforts have helped Navy allow a stingy 8.01 goals per game.
It’s that defense that helped Navy slip past Oregon 10-9 in overtime Saturday in Eugene, Ore. In a dramatic NCAA play-in game, sophomore Aimee Gennaro’s game-winning shot struck the crossbar and bounced across the goal line with four seconds left in the first overtime period.
One of just 16 teams still alive, Navy (18-2) advanced to play No. 5-seeded North Carolina (14-5) on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C.
But beneath the neat, clean lines of the Naval officer to be — King graduates May 29 and will be commissioned as an ensign — is a young woman who has had to work hard for what appears to have come to her so effortlessly.
First, there was school. As a plebe (Annapolis-speak for a freshman), King’s GPA was a less than stellar 2.4.
“I think it was finding time management,” King said. “There’s a lot of military stuff and you have to get acquainted to a different lifestyle. For me it was finding a balance between lacrosse and my military work and my academics.”
Since then, King’s academic work has flourished. Going into her current and final semester, the Upperco, Md., native recorded three consecutive 4.0 semesters – she earned a place on the Patriot League 2010 and 2011 Academic Honor Roll and its 2012 All-Academic Team.
As a result, it isn’t surprising that King has made the Dean’s List at the USNA, but she has also made the Commandant’s List as well. That list takes into account the Midshipman’s physical readiness, military aptitude and conduct.
“Any young woman who decides to go to the U.S. Naval Academy is very special,” said Navy coach Cindy Timchal, who led Maryland to nine Division I titles and is college lacrosse’s all-time winningest coach. “She’s been a starter for four years and an exceptional student, and even beyond that she’s gone to South Africa and Antarctica to study the climate there.”
The trip to Antarctica was for her education. Training to be a Navy meteorologist, King traveled there during her winter break earlier this school year. She took a photo with a Navy lacrosse jersey standing right at the South Pole.
Despite the publicity shot, it’s probably going to be difficult for the game to find a foothold on the frozen continent. In nearby, South Africa, though, King hopes she helped plant a seed that will grow.
King traveled to South Africa in the summer of 2011, spending two weeks there as part of the Beam Africa program organized through Campus Crusade for Christ. Beam Africa provides food, clothing, employment training and other services for impoverished citizens in the country.
King threw in teaching children the rudiments of lacrosse as a bonus.
“We took lacrosse sticks out there and taught them,” she said. “It was amazing how quickly they picked it up. It was an awesome experience.”
An experience that served to rekindle King’s passion for her sport, much the same way the ACL injury did that sidelined her near the end of her sophomore season.
“Sometimes when you practice you lose the sense of how much you do love the sport,” King said. “When you’re able to teach someone and see the joy in them, it takes you back to how much fun and new it was.”
Keeping that flame alive in her teammates has been King’s goal her team captain this season.
“As team captain you have to lead and motivate the other players to do their best,” King said. “That’s what I focus on. It’s a big team — 40 girls — and only 12 get to play at a time. Not everyone gets the same opportunity for playing time, but you can do so much for the team, like being on the scout squad.”
Soon, King will have to hang up her stick and goggles and head out to sea. She’s assigned to a frigate, the USS De Wert, which sets sail shortly after graduation.
King sees every experience she’s had in her four years at Navy, especially those on the lacrosse field, as helping prepare her for her career as a Naval officer.
“I take all of my experiences as training me for the future,” she said. “It’s crucial to be able to lead when you leave here. I think every experience helps me to learn about my style of leadership.”
They are words that find their roots in Kennedy’s never-given speech from so long ago.