February is such a critical month in the annual Army-Navy Star competition. No fewer than seven sports are up for grabs: Men’s Gymnastics, Rifle, Men’s & Women’s Indoor Track, Men’s & Women’s Basketball, and Wrestling. And with so many outcomes to be determined, it’s a great chance for the school that is behind to get back into the thick of things (or even take the lead) going into the spring. At the same time, the school that is ahead can really create a some separation by having a big month.
That’s the situation the Mids find themselves in right now. They came into February with a 6-3-1 lead in the competition. Then, the Men’s Gymnastics and Rifle teams got them off to a great start by posting early wins. Indoor Track was next on the docket, and those meets have been very close in the past. You only have to go back a year to figure that out. The Navy Women lost by a single point, and it all came down to two and a half inches in the weight throw; roughly the width of a standard business card. The men came up short as well. So after each team took it on the chin up at West Point last year, both were eager to return the favor when the Black Knights came to town on Feb. 8th.
Clearly, the title of this post tells you that both teams took care of business. You can read more about the women’s win here. Likewise, click here for a recap of the men’s victory . I am more interested how each team used the same strength in different ways to come out on top. And to do that, I’ll need to talk a little about how the competition was scored.
The Scoring System
This Star meet consisted of 17 events. Two of them were relays. Points were awarded for the top four finishers: 5 points for 1st place, 3 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. So if you do the math, there were a total of 11 points available in the 15 individual events and 8 each in the two relays. That puts the maximum at 181 points assuming there are no disqualifications in the relay events. Now we can look at the path each team followed to get their respective wins. We’ll start with the women.
It’s All In The Numbers
Some quick figuring will tell you that the magic number to win a dual meet is 91 points. It doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there. And having watched my share of Navy track meets when I was at Annapolis, I can tell you that they come with their own unique sense of drama. Multiple events are taking place simultaneously, and the coaches always know where their respective teams stand in terms of getting to that 91 point threshold. I guarantee you that as the situation changes, they can instantly recalculate how many points their team needs in the remaining events and where they have to come from to win the meet.
So how did the Navy women do it? In sports like track and cross country, DEPTH is absolutely critical to success. Taking 1st place in as many events as possible is the definitely the goal. But the true strength of a team can be measured by how many 2nd and even 3rd place finishes they can muster. This was where the women excelled. The meet was pretty close from start to finish. And it was after the shot put when things got really interesting.
Gutting It Out
Navy’s lead had shrunk to two points after Army won the shot put. But the Mids finished 2-3 in the 200 meters, offsetting a win for the Black Knights in that race. Then, Charlene Mork, a freshman from Isanti, MN, led the Mids to a 1-2 finish in the pole vault to extend the lead again. At the end of the day, both teams wound up winning eight events. But the Mids rung up 11 second place finishes compared to 5 for the Black Knights. Third place went 10-5 in Navy’s favor, which was good enough for a 49-29 advantage across those two places. That gave the Mids the cushion they needed to bring home the Star. This gritty 90-83 win was just what the doctor ordered to erase the memory of last year’s disappointment. Now let’s see how the Navy Men’s team got the job done.
Domination – Plain And Simple
While the women used their depth in key events late in the meet to grind out a well-earned win over Army, the men elected to bludgeon the Black Knights repeatedly with their depth from the very start on their way to a convincing victory. There was a bit of drama in the women’s meet. But it was pretty clear from the beginning that the men had no such inclination to follow the same narrative. They won the first nine events, finishing 1-2 in five of them. With seven events to go and some their strongest ones remaining, the Mids built a nearly insurmountable 70-39 lead. And when Kevin Murray, Jake Brophy, and Julian Perez swept the 3000 meter run, Navy needed just one more point with four events to go to seal the win.
So they tacked on 19 more to put the meet on ice by a score of 109-71. It was domination in its purest form. The team won 13 of the 17 events, claiming 65 of the available 85 points. They also took 2nd place in 10 of them, which was good for 30 points. Those 95 points were four more than they needed. And to put an exclamation point on the win, the Mids had eight 1-2 finishes mixed in for good measure. It all translated into a 38 point margin of victory, which was twice that of Army’s win last year. And you know that had to be particularly satisfying.
Depth Is King
Those of you who have followed my posts on Navy Football know that I believe that there no substitute for team speed. And in Track & Field, the same is true when it comes to depth. You definitely need to post a solid number of first place finishes. But it takes a strong showing from 2nd through 4th place in enough events to carry the day. The Navy Women’s Track team took advantage of their depth down the stretch to earn the victory. The men, on the other hand, used their depth like a sledgehammer from the very beginning to break down the Black Knights in a thoroughly dominating performance. Two different approaches, same great result.
The wins by the Men’s & Women’s Track teams are important for a couple of reasons. First, it means they have won the month of February already. Navy is 4-0 with three contests remaining. Secondly, they own a 10-3-1 record in the Star competition, putting them firmly in the driver’s seat before March begins. Don’t get me wrong. The rest of the month won’t be easy. The basketball games are usually tightly contested, so those could go either way. And while there was a time when a win in wrestling was practically a given, Army has found some success on the mats in the last couple of years.
In any case, there will be plenty of chances for the Mids to put this competition to rest with the spring sports season remaining. Two wins is all it’s going to take. But something tells me they have no intention of stopping there.
Until next time . . .