By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter
This is the first time that Ansley Davenport has celebrated Fourth of July as a member of the U.S. Army. She graduated from West Point Military Academy three weeks ago and will report for duty at Fort Rucker in Alabama before the end of the month.
The 22-year-old Alexandria resident will spend the next two years training to become a helicopter pilot. It will be a totally new experience for her, much like when she joined the women’s handball team in her first year at the historic military academy located about 70 miles north of New York City.
Handball was a sport Davenport knew nothing about, but she mastered it so well that she was one of the leading scorers on the West Point team that won the women’s division at the 2019 USA Team Handball College Nationals.
“When I got there (to West Point) I was looking for a team to try out for and decided to go to the (handball) tryouts one day and learn how to play,” she said. “Once I was drawn to it, I was stuck.”
As one of captains on the women’s handball team, Davenport said she learned some valuable lessons about teamwork and leadership. This year, she was among the West Point cadets nominated for the Mike Krzyzewski Award of Excellence in Teaching Character Through Sport.
The newly commissioned second lieutenant said the four years she spent as a student-athlete at Newport Central Catholic High School was “a great foundation” for her success at the academy.
Davenport earned varsity letters in soccer, basketball and track at NewCath. One of her shining moments came in the championship game of the 2016 9th Region All “A” Classic basketball tournament when she scored 19 of her team’s final 29 points in a 52-50 overtime win against defending champion Holy Cross.
Davenport received the tournament’s most valuable player award after that exciting victory. She had scored 80 points in her team’s four tournament games and surpassed the 1,000 mark in career points.
Her background in basketball helped Davenport make a successful transition to team handball.
“I played center back, which kind of compares to point guard in basketball,” she said. “You’re in the center of the court and kind of running the plays and helping move the ball, so that was my role on the team.”
In handball matches, each team has one goalkeeper and six field players. When a player receives possession of the ball, they can dribble, pass or take a shot on goal. Shots have to be released outside a 6-meter semicircle in front of the goal. Ball movement is important to get off a shot against opponents guarding that perimeter.
In her sophomore season, Davenport was the leading scorer at the 2018 women’s collegiate nationals with 36 goals and received the most valuable player award. She was on the West Point-Gold team that lost in the semifinals.
The following year, Davenport was co-captain of the West Point-Black team that won the national tournament. In the championship final, Davenport scored six goals during her team’s 19-15 win over North Carolina.
The West Point team did not get a chance to defend its national title this spring. The tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak that created a nationwide emergency.
The academy even considered canceling its traditional graduation ceremony due to the pandemic, but Army officials decided to proceed with the ceremony in June. President Donald Trump gave the commencement address to the 1,107 graduates, who marched in wearing face masks and sat on chairs spaced six feet apart.
“I honestly couldn’t even describe it,” Davenport said of the outdoor ceremony held on the academy’s parade ground and ended with graduates throwing their dress uniform caps high into the air.
“It was everything I worked so hard for over those four years and finally having it come to an end. It was nice to have that closure and be with all my classmates. That was truly an unbelievable feeling to be there together and kind of have that last hurrah.”
Davenport’s older brother, Austen, graduated from West Point in 2016 and is now a captain in the Army. She said they are the first siblings from NewCath to attend the academy. This year’s graduating class also included Campbell County graduate Matt Wilson, who was a three-year starter on the West Point men’s basketball team.
“People always ask me what’s the best thing about going to West Point and what I’m going to miss the most,” Davenport said. “Truly, it would be all the amazing people I met and became my friends, colleagues and mentors, and to have those connections that’ll last a lifetime is really neat.”