Someday Kelly Larkin hopes to be a Naval Flight Officer.
And don't look now, but the junior stick star has already taken wing, becoming the United States Naval Academy's all-time leading scorer in women's lacrosse, a distinction she also holds in the Patriot League.
Larkin tallied 69 goals and 52 assists this year while leading the Midshipmen to 16 wins and a runner-up finish in the Patriot League. Prior to the season, Navy was thought to be in rebuild mode, as everyone wondered just how the Mids would replace the scoring punch of Jenna and Julia Collins, the much-decorated twins who graduated in 2018.
The answer proved to be simple: Put the ball in Larkin's lacrosse stick pocket and turn her loose. The results were record-setting and season-making. Larkin's 121 total points (goals and assists) led the nation as of May 13. She was tied for 10th in goals and seventh in assists, and that versatility -- as a scorer and a distributor -- is what truly sets Larkin apart.
"Kelly is the one and only of her kind," Navy junior Kayla Harris said. "She is so smart and wants her teammates to succeed. She's selfless on and off the field."
Larkin, who grew up around several Navy families in Alexandria, Va., loves all things Midshipmen, especially the camaraderie.
"We built momentum late in the season because of the talent and work ethic we have," Larkin said.
Navy won its last five regular-season games, then added a 20-10 victory against Army in the Patriot League tournament semifinals before running into 11th-ranked Loyola's buzz saw in the championship game. Despite an early 3-1 lead, the 14th-ranked Mids were dispatched, 21-9.
The Greyhounds dogged Larkin all day, holding the high-scoring attacker to just five shots and two goals, though those scores were enough to push her past former all-time scoring leader Jasmine DePompeo's 2010-13 Navy mark of 336 career points. She ended the season with 346 points.
Loyola, the top defensive unit in the Patriot League, did what most teams do against Larkin, often double-teaming her and almost always faceguarding her to try to keep her away from the ball and away from all those opportunities to create scoring chances for herself and teammates.
"This year, with the Collins twins gone, I've seen a little bit more from the defenses," Larkin said. "Overall, they faceguard a lot more, but nothing we don't practice and that I'm not ready for."
Larkin has put up amazing numbers ever since she came to Annapolis, Md. She is the first Mid to tally 100 points in three consecutive seasons. She had the perfectly-balanced 54 goals and 54 assists as a freshman, then 62 goals and 55 helpers last year. The Mids won back-to-back Patriot League titles in the process.
She was the Inside Lacrosse Division I and the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 2017 and quickly garnered a reputation for being at her best in the biggest games during that year's NCAA Tournament. When the Mids upset defending national champion North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals, Larkin notched six points. She then added six goals in the semifinals against Boston College.
Larkin was an Inside Lacrosse second-team All-American in 2018, and she was recently named first-team All-Patriot League (for the second straight season) and the conference's Attacker of the Year.
But Larkin's individual numbers have never defined her idea of success. In fact, she'd prefer to tell you why her teammates have made her so successful rather than talk about her own skill set.
"I had more of a developmental role the last couple of years with [Jenna and Julia] Collins setting me up," Larkin said. "And I would feed them because they were so good at finding openings. This year it has shifted to me cutting [to the goal more], and my teammates are finding me."
Part of what has put Larkin in the lacrosse record books is very simple: She's left-handed, an edge she knows how to exploit. Righties can be told her tendencies, but it's a different thing to stop her on the field given the unique angles she comes from in attacking or passing.
"It's a huge benefit for me, there just aren't as many lefties on the field," she said. "Most girls are right-handed so right-handers cutting are more comfortable with their right hand open to me, and that just kind of opens it up."
Larkin says she has seen "huge benefits" from her choice to attend Navy. At an early age, family friends were "dragging" her along to football games in Annapolis, something that sparked her interest in visiting the campus and town. She loved the waterside setting and adored the inviting downtown scene of food and fun.
One of the nation's top lacrosse recruits coming out of Bishop Ireton High School (Va.) as a two-time All-American, Larkin was encouraged by her parents to keep an open mind to all the schools that were wooing her, including the nearby service academy.
"They emphasized how I could be most successful, not only in college, but also in life," she said. "I just tried to look at the Academy as a different opportunity from any other school, a place where I was going to be able to get a great education, play Division I lacrosse and then also be a part of something that wasn't just going to school and playing lacrosse. It has so much more meaning than that."
Larkin picks up momentum talking about the "amazing opportunities" she wants to pursue at Navy.
"Coming into the Academy, I pictured myself in the Surface Warfare Community [on a ship], but there are so many options," she said. "During the summer, the school has you do different training and that has really opened things up for me. I don't have to declare my [post-grad] preference until next year, but right now I'm leaning toward Navy Flight Officer."
The Mids earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, just the second time ever a Patriot League team has achieved that feat. Navy lost to Virginia, 15-12, in the second round. It was Navy's seventh NCAA appearance and third in a row. The junior class led by Larkin and Harris is no small reason for the Mids' recent success.
"Going in it was kind of intimidating playing for a team of such high caliber," Harris recalled. "We looked to each other for confidence and just to let each other know we could handle the pressure. I know I can go to Kelly about anything, whether it's [that] I just need someone to talk to after practice or I need someone to shoot with before practice. When I need a friend I can always turn to Kelly."
"Kayla is one of my best friends off the field and that chemistry helps us on the field, too," Larkin said. "I love working with her. She has the best speed and agility, just one of the quickest girls out there and the way she gets open really helps me. We're pretty familiar with each other on the field -- [senior Andie O'Sullivan], too. They know what I'm thinking out there."
Harris' chemistry with Larkin is apparent on and off the field. But Larkin has a lot more support on the field in Annapolis, and not just from appreciative teammates. Last year, her older sister Jill, who had enlisted out of high school as a hospital corpsman, enrolled at the Academy.
Jill, who is suddenly outranked by her younger sister, is a manager for the women's lacrosse team.
"It's awesome having her here," Kelly said. "She's out there at practice every day with us, and it's really brought us closer. She's my biggest fan and my best friend."
Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics
Issue 254: May 2019
Originally published May 15, 2019