It is a cold winter morning at the U.S. Naval Academy, and the Midshipmen with their black overcoats and red noses are holding on to their hats as they hustle to class. About the same time, Navy women's basketball team captain Lisa Steinmetz is wearing civilian clothes and walking briskly toward her car.
Steinmetz is a senior and starting guard for the Midshipmen (14-9, 4-6 Patriot League). She averages five points and 3.5 rebounds. She also averages quite a few incredulous looks from her current classmates: Steinmetz is taking all but one of her classes at another school -- Georgetown. More specifically, she is taking graduate courses toward a master's degree in National Security Studies at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.
Steinmetz has classes in Washington from noon until 8 p.m. on Mondays and from 2 until 8:15 p.m. Wednesdays. She enrolled at Georgetown though the Academy's Voluntary Graduate Education Program (VGEP). The program allows Midshipmen who are within one or two classes of graduating to take graduate-level courses at a local school.
It exists because the Academy does not offer graduate courses. Steinmetz is taking one class at Navy and will graduate, in four years, with a political science degree.
She hopes to finish her graduate courses by next spring and then will train to become a Marine pilot. For now, she is enjoying a rather unusual distinction among her graduate school classmates.
"On the first day of one of my classes," Steinmetz said, "we had to stand up and introduce ourselves and then say one thing about ourselves personally. I said my name and that I was at the Naval Academy, and then mentioned that I was playing basketball there. I think a few people were surprised."
Donald Daniel, Steinmetz's adviser and one of her teachers at Georgetown, found out about her situation while he was helping her with her class schedule.
"She mentioned it because she was trying to work her class schedule and she said had to take a certain class because that time worked in terms of her playing basketball," Daniel said. "That's when I found out she had this other life, so to speak. . . . I have been trying to follow the team, I look for their results in the paper. Yes, I was surprised [when he found out]. I hadn't expected to have a Division I athlete in one of my classes."
Attending classes at a school 45 miles away has not affected Steinmetz's schedule as much as it could have. She only misses one day of practice a week -- the team almost always is off on Monday or Wednesday. She would have missed some classes while attending the Patriot League tournament in early March, except that week coincides with Georgetown's spring break.
In basketball terms, Steinmetz visits with Coach Joe Sanchez to pick up scouting reports or to find out what she missed in practice and what things he would like her to work on.
"It is a very unusual situation," Sanchez said. "I think it's difficult on her. Basically, we talked about it when she got into the program, and we have an agreement that when she has the opportunity she'll work [on basketball] on her own, maybe in her lunch hour. . . . I haven't had to seek her out for anything. She'll duck her head in my office when she's off to check on everything. She's been very conscientious about it."
Balancing everything is not easy. Her opponents at Georgetown are expensive parking and classes such as Authoritarianism in the Middle East, U.S. National Security Policy, the U.S. and the Third World and the Theory and Practice of National Security.
But the hectic schedule has not taken Steinmetz away from her duties as team captain. When the Midshipmen were in the midst of a four-game losing streak in January, she would e-mail the team and tell them to keep their spirits up.
Around then, she also printed out a "checklist" and taped one inside each player's locker at Alumni Hall during the losing streak.
Among the questions on the list were, "Do I know the scouting report?", "Do I know the defensive sets and new offensive plays?" and "Is the competitive fire lit within?"
There are times when her teammates have a joke at her expense -- such as when she walks late into a team meeting and is wearing civilian clothes.
"Everyone will turn around and say, 'Oh, look at Miss VGEP coming in with her civilian clothes,' " Steinmetz said. "If I ever start to complain about something, the coaches will say, 'Why are you complaining? You get to wear civilian clothes.' "
There was a thought that Navy would practice at 5:30 a.m. so Steinmetz could be present before she would leave for Georgetown. The idea was scuttled, though not because the team was reluctant to do it.
"She is such a workhorse, you should see how hard she works in the weight room," Navy junior guard Courtney Davidson said. "She's this tiny girl but she's lifting so much weight. . . . She's always putting the team ahead of herself. We're all really proud of what she's doing. We would be happy to sacrifice anything for her, because she does so much for us."