Carroll County Times

Sports Comment: Off-court bond helps fuel Navy success

After 565 games and probably more than 2,000 practices together, the five seniors on the Navy women's basketball team truly are like family.

Think of all the long bus rides or plane trips to road games when they spent hours talking to each other. How many meetings or video sessions have there been over the course of four years? So many team dinners or other organized activities that allowed for bonding.

Consider Audrey Bauer, Jade Geif, Alix Membreno, M.L. Morrison and Kara Pollinger routinely do things together not related to basketball. They have become friendly with each other's families and discussed the most private of matters.

"As a group, we're definitely really close. We have spent so much time together and gotten to know each other so well. Audrey, Jade, M.L. and Kara are like sisters to me," Membreno said.

They can tease one another and poke fun at their personality traits. Bauer said they all give Morrison a hard time for "being a diva, a real girlie girl." Asked to use one word to describe Membreno, Morrison and Pollinger giggled and said in unison "sketchy," which they meant in a loving way.

"We are all best friends. We can tell each other anything," Geif said. "We also support each other. I know if I ever a problem or need help, any one of those girls would be there for me."

Bauer, a 6-foot forward from Lake Zurich, Ill., is affectionately known as "mom" to her fellow seniors. She lists knitting as a hobby and baking as talent. Membreno said Bauer likes Top 40 music such as Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood.

"Audrey is the team mother. She's the responsible one and takes care of everybody," Membreno said.

"Before you do something a little wild or crazy, you always run it by Audrey first. I can't tell you how many times she's said, 'Oh Jade, I don't think that's a good idea,' to me," Geif added.

Geif grew up in a rural part of Lakeville, Ill., and is universally described as a country girl. Pollinger calls the 6-foot post player "big girl" while Audrey nicknamed her "Jade-icle." Geif lists playing the trombone and fishing as hidden talents and said she would love to trade places with one of the wives from Duck Dynasty for a day.

"Jade likes to play in the dirt," Pollinger said wryly.

"Jade is a country girl through and through. She is really funny, just loves to laugh and tell jokes," Bauer said.

Geif bonded immediately with Morrison over a shared love of cowboy boots, trucks and country music. They have attended numerous concerts together such as Jason Aldean, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley.

Morrison hails from the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Southlake and says she still gets goose bumps every time she returns to her beloved Texas. She lists Nutella and Ritz crackers as a favorite snack food and admits she was known for driving a yellow jeep while in high school. Classmates said no one has a more perfect outfit or more complete makeup when it's time to go out on the town.

"I think M.L. has changed a lot since she came to the academy. She's seen a lot more of the world and realizes there's actually life outside of Texas," Geif joked.

Membreno was born in New York City, attended high school in Albuquerque, N.M. and now lists Loxahatchee, Fla., as her hometown. The versatile 5-foot-8 wing lists green chili breakfast burritos as a favorite meal and says she cannot live without a hair tie. Fellow seniors roll their eyes about Membreno's eclectic musical tastes, which range from Michael Jackson to Aerosmith to indie rock and electronic or techno music.

"Alix is a very unique, very interesting person. She is very outspoken, always willing to speak her mind and confront issues," Geif said

Pollinger was the shyest, quietest member of the class when the five arrived in Annapolis for plebe summer. The 5-foot-7 point guard comes from the tiny West Virginia town of Fort Gay (population 702) and spoke "with this little southern accent," according to Geif. Four years later, Pollinger is the team's emotional leader, a real dynamo and spitfire out on the court.

"As soon as Kara started to come out of her shell, we realized she was a really strong leader with a cool personality," Geif said.

Membreno figured anyone from West Virginia was a redneck and recalls being shocked at hearing Pollinger rapping to Lil Wayne and other hip hop artists.

That such a diverse group of individuals would come together to form the greatest class in Navy women's basketball history is a testament to the talent and chemistry among the five seniors. The Class of 2014 has equaled the program record with 81 career victories while leading the Midshipmen to three straight Patriot League Tournament championships, which secured automatic berths in the NCAA Tournament.

"On the basketball court, I think we work really well as a unit. We know each other's tendencies so well and have just learned how to play off one another," Bauer said. "It really is special when a group of players comes together so well. I think we all complement each other."