Bridget Looney doesn't know how many Navy lacrosse games she's watched at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. She sat alongside her younger sister and parents for the past four seasons, watching at least one of her three older brothers compete for the Midshipmen. Last spring, all three were members of the team that reached the NCAA final.
"Every now and then I think about what it would have been like to play at Navy," Looney said. "But it was disappointing because I knew it probably wasn't going to happen."
Last spring, Navy fielded a men's lacrosse team that included, from left, brothers Brendan, Steve and Billy Looney. But Navy does not have a women's team, so younger sister Bridget Looney is playing for Syracuse. "If Navy had a women's team, I would have really considered it," said Bridget Looney, a standout high school player.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
It's not that Bridget wasn't talented enough to play beyond the high school level. She was a good player at Holy Cross Academy in Kensington -- so good that she earned a lacrosse scholarship to Syracuse, where she will play for the Orange this spring.
Bridget Looney couldn't follow in the footsteps of her brothers -- sophomore Billy, junior Steve and recent graduate Brendan -- because the Naval Academy does not field a varsity women's lacrosse team, even though it is situated in an area that produces many of the country's best high school players.
"If Navy had a women's team, I would have really considered it, and even though they have a club team, I still considered it, but playing club lacrosse isn't the same as playing Division I," Looney said. At Navy, "I guess it's just for the boys."
Navy fields one of the top men's lacrosse teams in the nation. But it offers the women's game only on the club level because it lacks the money to make it a varsity sport, according to Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, whose daughter, Julie, was an all-county player at St. Mary's and last year was named to the All-American rookie team after her first season at North Carolina.
"We'd love to have a varsity team for women's lacrosse, but the funding is not there, and that's what it comes down to: money," said Chet Gladchuk. "It's one of about a dozen club sports that we'd like to move up to varsity, but right now that's not an option."
Navy's reputation as a top venue for men's lacrosse is a major reason it was awarded two of the biggest events in women's lacrosse in the next six months. Navy will host the NCAA Division I Women's National Championships on May 20 and 22 and the International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations World Cup, which is played every four years and is comparable to the soccer World Cup, beginning June 23.
"When we were going over bids from schools who wanted to host the event, the committee discussed the fact that Navy doesn't have a [varsity] women's team," said Kerry Fagan, an NCAA associate director in charge of championships. "But that was just part of the discussion. Navy showed it will place a high priority on making the event a success."
Fagan and Brian Logue, director of communications for U.S. Lacrosse, said Navy is an attractive lacrosse venue because of its facilities and its location in Anne Arundel County.
"It's right there in the heart of lacrosse country," Logue said. "It's in an area where the community really supports lacrosse, and that makes it a great fit" for the World Cup.
The school's lack of a women's lacrosse team is puzzling to some area high school coaches, who feel Navy could compete successfully on the national level -- something it struggles to do in several of its varsity women's sports, such as basketball, volleyball and cross-country.
"They could have the chance to get a lot of great players coming out of high school because they are good academically and they are close to home, so their families could watch them play," said Severn Coach Renie Sotiropoulos. "I think if Navy started a women's team, they could become good faster than some other schools."
Said Mount Hebron Coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland: "A lot of the best college teams in the country look to Maryland to start their recruiting because there are so many good players here. And just look at how many of them have gone on to have good college careers.
"There are a lot of positives Navy can offer. It might be hard to get young girls to commit to going into the service after they graduate, like you have to at Navy, but it would be an option to some girls. I had one girl on my team who is a freshman tell me she is thinking about trying to play at Navy, and I told her the only way that would happen is if she played with the guys."
Navy supports varsity teams in 15 men's sports compared with 10 women's sports, but still is in compliance with Title IX, the landmark 1972 federal law barring gender discrimination at federally funded educational institutions, because its percentage of varsity women athletes (22.4) is greater than the percentage of women in its student body (15.4), said Loretta Lamar, Navy's assistant athletic director in charge of NCAA compliance and eligibility.
"Right now, we offer a lot of women's sports, but we're not in a position to add any varsity sports," Gladchuk said. "That's not to say that at some point in the future that it could change, but right now we don't have room for it in the budget."
So for now, Bridget Looney knows there is only one way for her to play inside the same stadium as her older brothers: Syracuse must advance to the national semifinals.
"It would mean a lot if Syracuse went to the final four and everyone could see us play at Navy," she said. "It would be cool to play on the field after sitting in the stands and watching all my brothers play all of those games."