If Baileigh Kimball has learned anything since graduating from The Governor's Academy in 2007, it's to keep an open mind.
Prior to her enrollment in the U.S. Naval Academy, soccer was Kimball's life. She spent eight consecutive years playing club ball with the Seacoast United Soccer Club, and despite being a three-sport athlete at Governor's — she played varsity basketball all four years and lacrosse for two years — the Rye, N.H., native always considered soccer her top sport.
During Plebe summer, a demanding boot camp-style orientation that begins four years of preparation of midshipmen for commissioning as naval officers, Kimball tried out for the Navy soccer team.
Unfortunately, that year's recruiting class proved too deep, and her try-out fell short.
Initially dismayed by not making the team, a friend in Kimball's company suggested she try her luck with lacrosse.
Lacrosse, akin to soccer and basketball, had always been a staple of Kimball's athletic life. She began playing lacrosse in the third grade during the first year that the Rye Recreation Department offered the sport.
It was so new, Kimball recalled, that she was forced to use a boy's stick.
Her friend's encouragement was helpful, and though she'd be rusty and nervous, Kimball gave it a shot. She e-mailed head coach Cindy Timchal and was promptly invited to fall try-outs.
Totally ill-equipped, Kimball asked her mom to bring her lacrosse stick during Plebe Parents Weekend.
On a field with some of the nation's best lacrosse players, Kimball, self-proclaimed as "not too fast or too skilled," gave it her all and made the squad as a walk-on freshman.
"Not making the soccer team turned out to be a blessing in disguise," Kimball said.
As shocked and excited as she was to make the Navy lacrosse team in its first year as a Division I program, it all came to a deflating halt when Kimball tore her ACL and meniscus seven games into the season.
It was a debilitating situation, but her new Naval family was not about to let Kimball's resolve sink away.
"The support that I received from everyone was instrumental in my comeback," said Kimball, who credited Navy's doctors, training staff, and the strength and conditioning coaches. "My teammates and coaches also played a major role in my recovery. They supported me in every way. They gave me the time I needed to get back, but also instilled me with a desire to put in the necessary effort that goes along with recovering from knee surgery."
Still finding her strength and agility, Kimball played just five games the following year as a sophomore. However, her time away from the field enabled her to return with full health this past season.
As a starting defenseman, Kimball played 21 games and helped the Midshipmen win their first Patriot League championship.
"We had the opportunity to play some established programs such as William and Mary, Duke, and UNC. Playing teams of that caliber provided our young program with invaluable experience," said Kimball, who cited a comeback victory against Colgate University as her favorite memory of the season. "As a defensive unit, we always set goals before the game and take a lot of pride in reaching the bar that we set for ourselves."
A landmark season for Navy, the Midshipmen ended the year with a No. 19 national ranking, a school record number of wins (17-4 record) and its NCAA tournament premiere. Navy lost to the No. 3 seed University of North Carolina Tarheels in the first round.
Kimball received the Jennifer M. Powers Most-Improved Player Award for Women's Lacrosse at the Yardwide Prizes and Awards Ceremony at the end of the year.
"The success that we have enjoyed thus far is all due in large part to our amazing coaching staff," said Kimball. "Cindy Timchal, Allison Fondale, Kelly Coppedge, Jordan Trautman and Liz Schaffner — there is so much experience and knowledge between all of them. They push us every day and have high expectations for us because they truly believe in our ability as a team."
Currently in San Diego for aviation training, the Navy has taken the 21-year-old to Whidbey Island, Hawaii, Wake Island and Japan. Majoring in aeronautical engineering with hopes of being selected as a Navy pilot this fall, it's clear that Kimball's military life is juxtaposing her athletic life fluidly.
"I never thought lacrosse would be such a big part of my life. After my last lacrosse game at Governor's Academy, I honestly never thought I would play again," said Kimball, whose greatest ambition is to work for NASA's astronaut program.
"I have learned many lessons during my time at the Naval Academy," said Kimball. "Teamwork is stressed in all aspects of Academy life, the importance of relying on and trusting people; and one of the best lessons I have learned in the classroom is to embrace your weaknesses for what they are. Rather than avoiding a weakness, one should rely on his or her strengths to overcome it."