Navy's 46-7 defeat of Air Force in the Lt. Col. Kevin M. Shea Memorial Cup on Saturday was a strong signal that the Midshipmen aren't messing around this season under their first-year coach.
After longtime USNA head coach Mike Flanagan stepped down in the spring, the program found a replacement in former Dartmouth head guy Gavin Hickie, who is focused on not only maintaining Navy's hard-hitting reputation but also adding some new wrinkles.
The Irishman's energizing approach was on full display as Navy reclaimed the the sixth annual Shea Cup at the Prusmack Rugby Complex in Annapolis, MD. The game is played each year in memory of Lt. Col. Kevin Shea, who played rugby at Air Force and then cross-commissioned to the U.S. Marine Corps before helping coach rugby at Navy. He was killed in action in 2004 while fighting in Fallujah, Iraq.
In a 10-minute period in the second half, the Midshipmen turned what was a typically physical, tight service academy clash into a runaway.
Air Force never recovered. From the beginning of the second half to 50 minutes past, Navy scored three converted tries and put the game away as a result.
But Hickie figured his team could have done that all day long.
"We're happy with our first outing," said Hickie, who is also the head coach of the Collegiate All-Americans. "We had a number of inaccuracies, which is to be expected for us at this time. There's lots to tighten up and areas that require more accurate execution."
Ball security has been a problem at the highest level for the service academy teams.
Everyone says those teams are fit and disciplined, but perhaps we should expect more than that for tomorrow's military leaders. In Hickie's mind, the solution lies in his players' attention to detail.
"The whole country knows what Navy are good at," Hickie said. "We are a physical team. While that remains one of our focuses, my challenge here to date has been to try to implement more attacking options."
There's a lot that goes into that, not just "run this play here."
"This is about education on the game, clarity on why we want to do it that way, and then focus on the skill to execute on those options," Hickie said. "It won't come together in game one, but we showed glimpses that we are coming together. I expect us to be a cohesive attacking force come springtime."