Ava Yovino Already Dancing Into History With Navy


Navy freshman Ava Yovino is chasing program history for the No. 20 Mids.

Navy freshman Ava Yovino took up two sports early in grade school: Dance and lacrosse. Dual-sport athletes often talk about how one sport helped them with the other. Yovino isn’t sure dance did much for her lacrosse skills.

“Some of my teammates growing up tell me I move gracefully,” Yovino said.

Regardless, Yovino is doing a number on opposing defenders and draw units this season. She’s averaging 6.09 points per game, a number second only to Northwestern’s Izzy Scane in Division I. She leads the No. 20 Mids in points (69) and assists (41) and is third in draws (31). Yovino has scored multiple points in each of her first 12 collegiate games, the last eight of which have been Navy wins.

“Lacrosse is a sport more than anything that is just fun to go out there and play every day,” Yovino said. “I’m happy to make an impact, but it’s nothing without my teammates.”

Yovino’s first teammates were her older brothers, who both played lacrosse. One, Louie, went on to play at Furman for two seasons.

“It became a family thing,” Yovino said. “We were able to go to each other’s games. We played wall ball together.”

But Yovino soon gelled with other teammates, including defender Caroline Stefan. The two played one season together at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2019. Stefan was on her way to Navy, where she’d play in a few games during her freshman year in 2021, the same year Yovino let St. Thomas Aquinas to a state title.

“[Caroline] put [Navy] on my radar,” Yovino said. “Also, in the recruiting process, I knew lacrosse wasn’t everything. My priority was to be successful in life. A lot of schools do that, but I think coming here sets me up for the best path for my future.”

True to form, Yovino has done more than quarterback the Navy offense this spring. She declared her major in political science. After she serves at least five years in the Navy or Marine Corps — a requirement for Naval Academy graduates — she hopes to continue to serve the country in some form in politics. She’s unsure how, but it’s safe to say the college freshman has some time to think about it.

The service requirements for Navy graduates have always made committing to play for the Mids — and West Point — are a bit different. But COVID added new wrinkles. Other student-athletes whose 2020 seasons were canceled got an extra year, giving teams the benefit of keeping a super-senior or graduate student (or picking one up in the transfer portal). Navy doesn’t have that opportunity.

So, when Raegan Roelofs, Gil Eby and Kasey Dietzel, Navy’s leaders in points and draws in 2022, turned their tassels last season, that was it.

“Those players would’ve had another year of eligibility, and they’re all in flight school and on ships, which is amazing, but if you could imagine having those players back,” Navy head coach Cindy Timchal said. “Then, you’re playing with those players every day at practice. It’s a double benefit for everyone who can retain some players.”

It put Yovino in a sink-or-swim situation.

“You need to understand how young she is as a freshman, and there are certainly standout players in the country, and I get that, but we’re playing against grad students and super seniors every time we play,” Timchal said. “She’s standing up to that. Freshmen do shine.”

Call it whatever you want: Shining bright, swimming, diving in head first — Yovino is having herself a year. With five regular-season games to play, she’s third in Navy freshman history in points (69) and has a chance to challenge Kelly Larkin’s 2017 record (108). She could pass Meg Decker for second when Navy takes on Boston U on Saturday, looking for its ninth-straight win. Larkin’s 2017 freshman assists record (54) could also fall. Yovino has 41.

Yovino is averaging 3.42 assists per game, currently the best of any player in any class in school history. And that just scratches the surface. It’s so much to track that Navy’s women’s lacrosse sports information contact Chris Whitehead has an entire document dedicated to her.

“She’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached, and that goes from Northwestern, Maryland and the University of Penn,” Timchal said. “She loves the game of lacrosse … She’s a generational player that we knew would come in here and make an impact.”

Plenty of coaches make bold statements like these, but they carry extra weight coming from Timchal, who is in eight different lacrosse Hall of Fames and has coached some of the most influential people in the sport. We’re talking the likes of Jen Adams, Kelly Amonte Hiller, Cathy Reese and Acacia Walker-Weinstein — just to name a few of the heavy hitters.

“The field vision, the lax IQ, the understanding of defensive markups, early slides … she has all those things,” Timchal said.

Yovino credits her friendship with Stefan for helping her get acclimated to campus life. Sophomores Alyssa Daley and Emily Messinese have shown her the ropes on the draw circle. And the senior class has created a culture that made her feel confident standing out, even as a freshman.

“They give everyone respect on and off the field,” Yovino said. “They make practice and the team feel like a family atmosphere. When I’m around them, I don’t feel like I’m on the outside. I feel like we’re best friends. It’s the best thing.”

This fall, Yovino focused heavily on letting her fast friendships with her new teammates spill out onto the field, learning their individual strengths and tendencies.

“With passes and feeding, it’s about a connection you form instantly,” Yovino said. “When we go out there, we have connections no other team understands because of the things we do here. The same can be said for the [players] at West Point.”

One of those players at No. 13 Army is Brigid Duffy, another freshman, who is ninth overall and second to Yovino among freshmen nationally in points per game (5.20).

“That’s the cool thing about this sport,” Yovino said. “The talent is growing across the country, not just in the ACC and Big Ten. I think it’s cool. Brigid and me being in the Patriot League is something that’s getting national attention. We’re from two service academies, which I think is the coolest part. I credit her and Army. They’re doing a great job this season. I’m excited to play them.”

The Black Knights jetted off to an 11-0 start this season before losing to Yale on Tuesday. But the Black Knights are 5-0 in Patriot League play. No. 13 Loyola and Navy are 4-0. All three are in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Division I Top 20. It’s turned the Patriot League — dominated by Loyola since 2019 — into a three-team race, with the potential for the two teams not crowned champions to receive at-large bids into the NCAA tournament.

“Our position in the Patriot League with our RPI is to look for at-large bids,” Timchal said. “We go out of our way to make a statement.”

Of course, the biggest statement would be to take back the title Navy last won in 2018. The Mids also won in 2017, Larkin’s freshman year, and danced all the way to the Final Four.

“The goal going into every year is to win a national championship,” Yovino said. “But we do that day by day, brick by brick, practice by practice, just getting better together.”

As the stage gets bigger, expect Yovino to continue finding her groove.

“She’s going to get stronger and better every game,” Timchal said. “I do believe she rises up in the toughest situations. That’s a narrative that is probably absolute for Ava.”


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