Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
“When they take surveys of women in business, of the Fortune 500, the successful women, 80 percent of them say they were in sports as a young woman.” Billie Jean King
For as long as there has been a Coast Guard Academy, there has been a focus on the physical development of cadets.
The Academy’s mission is to graduate young men and women with sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds.
With a focus of developing all cadets into leaders of character who fully embody the Academy’s mission, the school offers multiple avenues for cadets to reach their athletic best and to quell their thirst for competition.
The Coast Guard Academy has more than 20 collegiate teams, four club sports teams and multiple recreational club teams.
Since opening its doors to women more than 35 years ago, the Academy has had women athletes.
And though many sports fans argue that women’s sports are boring compared to men’s sports, our women athletes are the ones bringing back the gold.
Just this month, Cadet First Class Helen Oh won the women’s Air Pistol National Championship for the third straight year.
A week before Oh won the national title, Cadet Third Class Kaitlyn Mooney ran the fastest time ever recorded in Division III history to win the National Championship in the 5,000 meters and was the anchor of the distance medley relay team which earned All-America honors with a third place finish at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championship.
For women cadets, there are 13 collegiate teams, two club sport teams, and a many recreational club sports to choose from.
For some collegiate sporting events, the women practice with their male counterparts on co-ed teams but compete against only women. They are: rowing, swimming and diving, cross country, offshore sailing, rifle, sailing, and track and field.
For women on club sporting teams, the women’s rugby team practices and plays against women only teams and the women on the triathlon team practice and compete with their male teammates but only compete against other women.
One sport, pistol, allows women to compete against women and then has an All-Around award that is awarded to the man or woman with the highest score overall. Coast Guard Academy’s own Oh won the All-Around this year. The first time ever that one shooter has won both the Women’s All-Around Collegiate Individual Championship and the Open All-Around Collegiate Individual Championship.
“It was such an honor winning the Women’s and Open National Rifle Association Intercollegiate National Pistol Championship this season,” said Oh.
“It really showed me that hard work and sacrifice really does pay off. Not only that, but winning the national team title at the conclusion of my senior year was one of those moments I will never forget. There’s nothing more special than finding that victory alongside my teammates. I am so thankful for the love and support I get from my teammates, coaches, and Academy community. The Academy Pistol Team is a special program and I’m so thankful that I had the chance to be a part of it for my four years here.”
Female cadets like Oh, were recruited to attend the Academy for their prowess in athletics. They are scouted and offered early admission.
Most of the women athletes recruited for sports choose the Academy not for sports but for the Coast Guard’s mission.
“The Coast Guard Academy appealed to me because I was looking for a challenge and opportunity to do more than just what the average college student does,” said First Class Cadet Adora Lawrence, a member of the Women’s Track and Field Team distance medley relay team which took third place with a school-record time of 11:43.85 to earn All-America honors at nationals.
“The Academy does not solely focus on academics, or sports, but instead challenges me in both, along with the military and leadership development aspects. Coming to a place that continuously challenges me and develops all aspects of my character is something that I would not trade for the normal college experience.”
Some cadets are scouted for one sport but end up excelling at another. Cadet First Class Hayden Short played softball for most of her life, even playing on America’s Team in Greece and Italy, winning numerous awards and titles and being scouted by D1 colleges. However, during her first year at the Academy, she found Women’s Rugby.
“I played softball during my freshman year here, then decided to transfer sports my sophomore year to an entirely new experience: women’s rugby,” said Short.
“I was hooked after my first tackle and have played three years to date. All sports have lessons that can be taken from the field and applied to real life. But rugby has lessons that can’t be found in any other game.”
As the Coast Guard Academy has a mission to graduate cadets with sound bodies, part of that mission is to graduate officers ready for military life. Many of the women athletes at the Academy are from military families and want to continue the tradition like Cadet Second Class Elena Calese, a diver on the Women’s Swimming and Diving Team.
“I chose the Academy because most of my family is in the military or a government employee and I could not imagine my life without the military,” said Calese.
“I chose Coast Guard over the other federal service academies because I like the service for its missions and smaller size.”
For Cadet First Class Cassidy Riley the Coast Guard Academy was not her planned path and instead found the Academy through a women’s soccer tournament near her hometown while meeting with coaches from the opposing teams.
“After chatting with some of the Academy’s players, I knew I wanted to be like the girls at the Academy,” said Riley.
“The following fall, I was wearing a Coast Guard uniform playing with those same women in that same tournament. Funny how things work out like that. Graduating high school, I didn’t know who I wanted to be. At any other school, I was worried I might not get the direction or opportunities that I was looking for. I knew that the Coast Guard’s size and community would not let me fail. That was the kind of support I needed as I left for college.”
Since the Coast Guard Academy has so many sport options and a smaller student body, many cadets play multiple sports, like Cadet First Class Addisen Rutkoske who is captain of the Men’s and Women’s Triathlon Team and on the Swimming Team.
“Since coming here, I have been on three different sports teams, two of which are sports I had never competed in before,” said Rutkoske.
“I would recommend participating in at least one sport for a season when you’re here. It is by far the best way to get to know your classmates, teachers, and coaches along with representing not only the Coast Guard Academy, but the Coast Guard as a whole.”
As a member of both the Triathlon Team and Swimming Team, Rutkoske practices and competes next to her male teammates.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Rutkoske.
“Both the women’s and men’s teams come together to make a giant, supportive family with years of expertise. You always have someone to learn from and you end up pushing yourself even harder with the men working right alongside you.”
While some women practice and compete with male teammates, others are on all-women teams such as Cadet Second Class Kylie Vaverek an outfielder on the Women’s Softball Team, who has been playing ball since the age of four.
“People assume that softball is just the female version of baseball, however, these two sports are very different,” said Vaverek.
“Being on a women only sport is pretty cool. We, females, are the experts.”
Whether on all-women’s or women and men’s teams, cadets at the Academy find that participating on a team allows them to find a family on campus.
Cadet Second Class Zoe Riis-Fallica has found that being on the Women’s Basketball team has given her an unbreakable bond with her teammates and coach.
“We are family,” said Riis-Fallica.
“Coach Alex Ivansheck has done a commendable job in establishing and developing this program into what it is today. Ivansheck has taught me a lot about leadership through playing. She has emphasized tenacity, versatility, persistence, and the importance of competition. These lessons are not only on the court, but off the court as well. The support that our team receives is unbelievable. From the athletic department, other sports teams, wardroom ladies, our strength and conditioning coach, instructors, parents and relatives, to the Superintendent of the Academy Rear Adm. Rendon, and his staff. The bonds I have formed, the support the team has received, and the family atmosphere the program has established is immeasurable. I am so proud to be a member of the Academy Women’s Basketball team.”
As anyone in sports knows, teamwork makes the dream work. From day one at the Coast Guard Academy, cadets are taught to work together.
“I love being on a sports team because you get to meet a group of people who love the same sport as you and most likely share some similar experiences with you,” said Cadet Second Class Angelou Dunton, an outside hitter on the Women’s Volleyball Team.
“When you join a team, you’ll be gaining a small community, a group of people who you know you share something with. I think it’s especially important to find something to be a part of at the Academy that gives you a community to be a part of, and a sports team is a great way to do that.”
Competitive sport athletes are not the only athletes on campus. There are multiple clubs for dance, cheer, yoga, ski, snowboard, archery, scuba diving and others.
Club sports and recreational teams are all about relaxing with friends, friendly competition and fun.
“Bear’s cheerleading is incredible,” said Cadet First Class Sasha Shibazaki, a flyer on the Academy Cheer Squad.
“Cheerleading is more than just shaking poms and chanting cheers from the sideline. We have a vital role in motivating a crowd of cadets, officers, enlisted, faculties, and families. We represent the energy and the spirit of the corps.”
Athleticism at the Academy gives cadets a way to distress and relax from the hustle and bustle of academic and military life.
Athletics not only allows cadets to bring home the gold, it gives them the drive to one day bring home the survivor at sea. Leading a team on the field turns to leading a team during emergency response. Motivating the crowd during a game leads to motivating your shipmates during times of high stress.