[Baltimore Sun] Navy women’s basketball seniors overcame adversity throughout their careers

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Navy women’s basketball seniors Morganne Andrews, Sam Schofield and Sydne Watts have faced a lot of challenges during their careers.

They arrived in Annapolis amidst a worldwide pandemic and their plebe year was simply miserable. Bancroft Hall was on constant lockdown and the basketball season was significantly truncated due to the virus. Andrews spent 57 days in isolation without ever testing positive for COVID.

Watts recalls being dropped off at the Naval Academy main gate on Induction Day and not seeing her parents again until October. Andrews remembers not even being able to see Schofield or Watts during the daily sports periods of plebe summer.

Because of positive tests, Navy women’s basketball only played 12 games during the 2020-21 season, which was declared over in late February after four of its last five scheduled games were canceled.

“It was kind of a brutal way to start your career at the academy. It was a very different experience than most mids have. Thinking back, it was really weird to go through it,” Schofield said. “During plebe year, we would wake up each morning not knowing if we had a game that night because it depended on the COVID test at noon.”

They never got to play for the coach that recruited them. Stefanie Pemper was dismissed shortly after the 2019-20 season was canceled and replaced by Tim Taylor.

“It had to be tough for them that the coaches who recruited them and had built relationships with them were no longer here,” Taylor said. “When they started plebe summer we weren’t able to be there to support them. We didn’t get to meet them in-person until late August.”

Remarkably, they maintained a positive attitude throughout that bizarre plebe year and leaned on each other to make it through. Andrews remembers spending several weeks in the isolation wing of Bancroft Hall with Schofield and Watts in a room opposite.

“I think the reason I survived was because of Sam and Sydne. We would sit across the hall from each other and talk for hours. We built a bond and a lot of trust,” she said.

Schofield, Andrews and Watts will be honored during a ceremony prior to Saturday’s final regular season home game against American. This senior season has been much more enjoyable than the previous three as Navy women’s basketball has shown dramatic improvement and has a chance to finish with a .500 record in the Patriot League.

A young, inexperienced squad has been playing its best basketball over the past month, posting a 5-3 record since Jan. 31.

“It’s awesome to see us meshing on the floor the last few months. We’ve grown to have a real team identity,” Schofield said. “It’s great to see it really coming together.”

Navy’s Morganne Andrews shoots over Army’s Kya Smith during a game on Jan. 20. (Paul W. Gillespie/Staff)

Andrews, who hails from Martinsburg, West Virginia, fell in love with the Naval Academy while participating in a candidate’s weekend. She attended a Navy women’s basketball camp the summer before senior year and told Pemper she had applied to the academy.

“Coach Pemper said if I got into the academy I would have a spot on the basketball team,” Andrews said.

Now Andrews, who has received Marine Corps Air as a service assignment, is the team captain. It has been challenging since the Navy roster features 12 sophomores or freshmen.

“To have the opportunity to lead these girls has been unbelievable,” Andrews said. “I never imagined myself in this role. It’s a great honor and a lot of responsibility.”

Andrews has played in 99 of Navy’s 100 games and made 34 starts during her career. The 6-foot-1 forward led the Mids in rebounding with 6.6 per game as a junior. She recorded 10 rebounds or more in nine games and hauled down a career-high 19 against American.

“I think Morganne has done a really good job of keeping the team together, especially early in the season when we weren’t winning games,” Taylor said. “Morganne is going to give you 100% at all times. She does everything she’s supposed to and works really hard.”

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Schofield spent considerable time on the Naval Academy campus while growing up and said when it came time to choose a college “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.” Her father, Ed, was a Hall of Fame water polo player at Navy and 1987 graduate. An uncle, Mike Schofield, was the academy’s longtime water polo coach. Another uncle, Jim, also played water polo at Navy and graduated in 1984.

Schofield was a key member of the Anthony Wayne High girls basketball team that went 22-1 and captured the Ohio Division I state championship. Pemper had promised her a walk-on opportunity and fortunately one of her assistants, Jimmy Collotton, was retained by Taylor and made sure that pledge was honored.

“The Naval Academy has always been a part of my life,” Schofield said. “I spent so much time on the yard while growing up, whether it was hooping in McDonough Hall or swimming in Lejeune Hall.”

As a junior, Schofield appeared in 24 games and averaged 10.3 minutes as a backup guard. She scored a career-high 14 points in a victory over Lafayette.

“I’m so grateful to be part of this team and playing Division I basketball,” Schofield said. “There has never been a moment when I thought about leaving. The girls on this team are my best friends and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Watts was a two-sport standout at Cherokee High in Georgia and was named Female Athlete of the Year as a senior. She scored more than 1,000 career points and was named All-State in basketball.

Both parents were athletes at Louisville. Her father, Erik, was a quarterback on the football team and here mother, Georgy, was a member of the cross country and track and field programs. Watts took an official visit to Louisville, but chose the Naval Academy because “I knew it had a much higher purpose.”

Watts played in 60 games with 52 starts as a sophomore and junior, serving as a go-to player on offense. The 6-foot wing led Navy in scoring last season averaging 12.7 points. She poured in a career-high 33 points against Idaho, which is tied for the ninth-highest total in program history.

All three seniors have seen their roles reduced this season with the arrival of a talented freshman class. Andrews and Watts are both coming off the bench after starting as juniors. Schofield is averaging less than four minutes per game.

Debbie Latta

Navy forward Sydne Watts drives to the basket between two Boston University defenders during a December 2022 game. (Deb Latta/Navy Athletics)

Watts is the team’s third-leading scorer (8.3 points per game) behind freshmen guards Zanai Barnett-Gay and Kyah Smith.

“Sydne’s role has changed from being a primary scorer and she’s made the adjustment. We’re asking Sydne to do other things like and she’s playing extremely well right now. She’s doing a great job of rebounding, defending and passing,” Taylor said. “Sydney has a really big heart and is a great teammate.”

Taylor said Schofield has transformed into somewhat of a student-coach with particular focus on helping Barnett-Gay and Smith make the adjustment to Division I basketball and the Naval Academy.

“Sam is really intelligent and always trying to help her teammates. She’s been a great mentor to Kyah and Zanai, on and off the court. She is constantly talking to those freshman guards during games to make sure they are doing the right things,” Taylor said.

Navy compiled a combined record of 16-57 during the three previous seasons. Last season, the Midshipmen suffered through a 1-29 campaign. Watts actually believes what happened in 2020-21 was a positive experience.

“We were blessed as a team to go through the adversity of a 1-29 season. You don’t get many opportunities to get kicked in the stomach that many times. To walk into 29 sad locker rooms and still stay positive and keep pushing forward is not easy to do,” she said. “Most teams would have fallen apart. We would get up the next day and go to practice ready to grind. That season built me more than a championship season would have. We learned a lot about ourselves and came to really understand the meaning of never giving up.”

That experience also makes the improvement shown this season all the more rewarding. Navy (11-16, 7-9) could finish as high as fifth place in the Patriot League by winning its last two regular season games. Andrews bragged about the Midshipmen enjoying a 110% increase in wins and is proud of the progression of the program.

“Every single win is special to this team,” she said.

Taylor would love to see Navy make a deep run in the Patriot League Tournament to send this senior class out the right way.

“I think the main thing about this group is their resiliency. That’s what you have to talk about with these seniors; They survived a lot of tough situations at the academy. They’ve overcome a lot,” Taylor said. “It was a really tough three years to start their careers. I don’t know how many student-athletes could have dealt with what they did here at the academy.”

Andrews agrees wholeheartedly with that statement.

“At the academy, they teach you to overcome adversity, but in reality how much exposure do you have to it? Going through COVID, going 1-29 — that’s real adversity,” she said. “We’ve been able to stick together and lean on each other even though we weren’t having success on the court.”

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