From her first week of practice in the fall through the regular-season schedule to date, Navy women’s lacrosse freshman midfielder Ava Yovino has established herself as a talent and presence who keeps her coaches and older teammates buzzing in awe.

They speak of Yovino’s unusual skill set, as a highly unselfish feeder with exceptional vision and accuracy, as the team’s quickest, most athletic dodger who probably should take more shots, as a lockdown defender, and as an effective scrapper and ground ball machine around the draw circle.

They admire how Yovino can combine fun and focus, by cracking up the team with a joke to loosen up a practice or game-day tension, then get back to serious business as a dynamic, full-field performer.

No one, they say, cheers harder for the Mids. No one has consistently done as much to help Navy take a 12-3 record and 6-1 Patriot League mark into Saturday’s crucial contest against Army West Point. And Yovino, they say, is an unsatisfied, unfailingly humble young star who is extremely hard on herself.

They also wonder if Yovino, who is grinding toward the end of a typically challenging year at a school with a demanding schedule designed to exhaust plebes, ever really gets tired.

Yovino is here to tell you that, no, she is not anything approaching superhuman.

“Whether you play a sport or not here, every [plebe] is going through the same thing,” says Yovino, referencing the rigorous academic, military and sports schedules and sleep deprivation cycles she has navigated in her first year.

“Being able to push through it, I think, is mental sometimes. Or it can come down to how you treat your body during those little amounts of time when you don’t have anything to do. [For example] I love playing pickleball with friends sometimes on Sundays,” she adds. “No one gets through here by themselves. Getting acclimated here is about relying on your teammates and other people in your company to help you. Lacrosse is a mini-vacation, especially for a plebe.”

Yovino clearly has taken advantage of her windows of break time.

Entering the homestretch of a dazzling freshman season, Yovino, who hails from Parkland, Florida, starred at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and is a product of the Florida Select club team, ranks fifth in Division I with 5.47 points per game.

At this late stage of 2023, that tops the current Navy freshman record of 4.7 points per game, owned by former star attacker Kelly Larkin, who in 2017 scored 108 points in her first year. That season, Navy played 23 games, while advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals.

Yovino has scored 82 points (36 goals, 46 assists) through 15 games in 2023. With nine more helpers, she would pass Larkin and own the freshman record with 55 assists. Jasmine DePompeo owns the program’s individual season record of 71 assists, achieved in 2013.

Yovino has recorded 43 percent of Navy’s 107 assists, which have led to 46 percent of the Mids’ 232 goals. Finishers such as sophomore midfielder Emily Messinese (38 goals), junior attacker Leelee Denton (35 goals) and freshman midfielder Maggie DeFabio (28 goals) have benefited greatly from Yovino’s vision and feeding ability.

“The majority of my assisted goals are coming from [Yovino]. She breeds confidence in our offense,” Messinese says. “If the ball is in her stick, we have one hundred percent confidence in her to do what we need in that moment. She is comfortable as a plebe speaking up to the offense or defense about what we need to do. She follows it up with her actions.”

“Ava sets the bar high every day with her energy and her work ethic. The way she leads by example and stays so humble and cares much more about the success of other people and does not want the spotlight on her,” says senior defender and co-captain Athena Corroon. “She makes everybody else want to get better, which is amazing for a plebe. She inspires me.”

Yovino’s versatility also has stuck out since day one on the practice field. Head coach Cindy Timchal says it’s not uncommon for Yovino to prefer defensive drill repetitions to offense. She ranks second on the team with 15 caused turnovers. She also has controlled 40 draws, third highest among the Mids, which is a testament to the grit in her game.

“You need more of a finesse edge when you play offense. On defense, you can impose your will more,” Yovino says. “I love being part of a good double-team that gets the ball on the ground. I love the momentum shift that happens when I clear it and help my teammates come up with something big [at the offensive end]. There is a competitive edge here at a service academy that is fierce, compared to a lot of Division I teams.”

“You can’t afford to keep a player like Ava at one end of the field. Her lacrosse IQ is better than a lot of us have seen,” sophomore midfielder Alyssa Daley says. “[Yovino] is the loudest one cheering for the team and making people laugh while taking the game so seriously. She always brings a calm to the field.”

Brindi Griffin, Navy’s second-year offensive coach who led the University of Maryland to national titles in 2017 and 2019, recalls how Yovino blew her away immediately during fall camp with her top-notch speed, shooting, passing and ability to read defenses accurately. But it was Yovino’s humility and eagerness to solicit suggestions on how to improve that floored Griffin as much as anything else.

“During our early drills, Ava was burning defenders and ripping risers and genuinely wanting to feed her teammates instead of scoring herself. And just like now, she was humble and coachable, asking after every practice or game how she could get better,” Griffin says. “I remember asking her at the end of the fall, “Do you know how good you are?” She is mature far beyond her years. She is such a leader, without even trying to be.”

Yovino says she drew recruiting interest “from a lot of schools” but was attracted early to Navy and the challenges the academy promised at a place designed to produce officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. She was influenced in part by Caroline Stefans, Navy’s junior defender, who suffered a season-ending injury in February. The two played together for a year at St. Thomas Aquinas and aim to do the same in 2024.

“I had no idea for a while where I wanted to go,” recalls Yovino, who committed to Navy in the fall of her junior year. “I kept coming back to the idea of [earning] long-term success, rather than short-term rewards. This is what I really wanted for my future.”

Timchal says Yovino, like many young players forming the foundation of the Midshipmen’s future, came to the right place at an opportune time. The Mids, who carry just eight seniors, are leaning on their younger players as they rebound in the post-Covid years.

“Ava happened to come in at a time when we needed a real solid recruiting class the most,” Timchal says. “We are playing against a lot of grad students and super seniors every time we play. [Yovino] has really stood up to that.”

“Ava is all about competing. Her understanding of the game, her love of the game, her poise under pressure. Ava was ready to play when the season started,” Timchal adds. “When a player like her comes in and offers something unique and different, it kind of raises the level for everybody. She is a generational player.”

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