Gary Gait still looking to fulfill his promise to Syracuse women’s lacrosse
Codie Yan | Staff Photographer
Gary Gait’s eyes darted back and forth on a calendar that hung on the wall in the women’s lacrosse office. Caitlin Defliese, one of his assistant coaches, was asking him questions about next year’s schedule. Syracuse was 13-4, about to finish the regular season at Louisville in two days, but Gait had already started planning for the future.
Before he could set up SU’s next matchup with Cornell, Gait was interrupted. He forgot he had an interview, and the thought of taking a break irritated him. Gait strode into his office tucked into the corner of Manley Field House, planted himself at his L-shaped desk and fired up his desktop monitor before pulling out his Apple MacBook. His work must continue in his office. Gait still has yet to accomplish what he set out to do a decade ago.
Gait took control of the Syracuse women’s lacrosse program 10 years ago — nearly 20 years after revolutionizing the sport as a member of the men’s team. Gait and his twin brother Paul led the Orangemen to three NCAA titles from 1988-1990, though the 1990 title was later vacated due to an illegal car loan co-signature between the wife of coach Roy Simmons Jr. and Gait’s brother, Paul. In 1995, Gait became an assistant coach at Maryland under Cindy Timchal and won seven straight national titles.
Twelve years after first joining UMD, then-Syracuse Director of Athletics Daryl Gross called Gait and offered him a chance to head his alma mater’s women’s lacrosse program. Former coach Lisa Miller had resigned. Gait initially turned down the job. He had found comfort in Denver coaching the Colorado Mammoth, a National Lacrosse League team. A talk with his wife Nicole and children, Taylor and Braedon, convinced him otherwise.
At Syracuse, Gait’s record is 163-53. The Victoria, British Columbia, native has propelled the Orange to five straight national semifinals, including seven in the last nine years. Gait doesn’t look back at all he’s accomplished because he said his father taught him not to. Over the years, Gait said he has declined offers from men’s lacrosse programs. He said he won’t allow himself to think about leaving until he fulfills the promise he made to Gross: Win the program its first national championship. Even if he wins, Gaits admitted he’ll be hungry for another.
“Keep your head down,” Gait said. “Keep working, keep moving forward and try to reach that goal. I’ve been able to do it with almost every job I’ve had. This one I still haven’t finished the job.”
An unopened bottle of Grey Goose vodka sits atop a file cabinet in Gait’s office — a gift for helping a coach get a new job. Next to the bottle is a row of shelves that take up most of the space on the wall behind Gait’s desk.
Lining the shelves are trophies, plaques and memorabilia. Some, like a 2012 Big East Coach of the Year plaque, belong to Gait. Most of the awards belong to his players.
“It’s about team success,” Gait said as he swivels around in his chair and stares at the wall. “It’s about what you do as a group and as a team.”
Gait coached his first team with his brother when they were both teenagers. For a couple of summers in the 1980s, the Gaits called the shots for a peewee box lacrosse team in Victoria. He returned to the sidelines 23 years ago, when his daughter Taylor was born. Gait sought to learn the women’s game, so he joined Timchal in Maryland. She now coaches Navy and regards Gait as one of the best women’s coaches in the country.
When Gait took over for Miller at SU, the Orange had only one NCAA Tournament win. In the 10 years since Gait’s hiring, SU has accumulated 17.
Codie Yan | Staff Photographer
“Who wouldn’t want to play for Gary Gait?” Sonia Lamonica, the head coach of Towson who played at Maryland while Gait coached there, said. “He is a legend.”
Year after year, Gait has brought and developed top-tier recruiting classes into 36 All-Americans and nine players of the year. Generations of legends — Tee Ladouceur, Katie Rowan, Alyssa Murray and Kayla Treanor — came and went, earning countless records but never an NCAA title.
Throughout his time at SU, Gait has flourished by putting his players into new situations. He asked Treanor to take draws her senior season and she broke the single-season record for draw controls. Devon Parker had seven goals in three seasons as a midfielder, then switched to attack and now has 23 goals.
Gait doesn’t raise his voice at his players, and John Blatchley, Gait’s friend and fellow assistant at Maryland, can’t recall a time where Gait yelled at the team. Former player Halley Quillinan attributes Gait’s encouragement as the catalyst for her improved shot. Gait instead releases the occasional outburst towards a referee.
“He was a calming voice,” Murray said. “He made you feel that whenever he was telling you was going to work. That was always nice, to go to the sidelines and have him put a lot of trust in you.”
After Syracuse lost to Maryland in the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Murray said Gait defied the team’s expectation and simply said: The sun will come up in the morning.
Team failure to win the biggest prize doesn’t overshadow individual greatness. Blatchley refers to Gait as “the Michael Jordan of the sport.” Roy Simmons Jr., former head coach of SU’s men’s program for 17 years, recruited him and compares Gait’s place in lacrosse to Lou Gehrig’s in baseball.
“The name Gait will always be important in this game,” Simmons. said. “I know that kids admire him. The game doesn’t have heroes, but it does have Gary Gait.”
Gait appreciates the recognition, but ultimately it irks him. Growing up, he always pressed to move forward. Never falling too low, never reaching too high.
He chuckled at the memory of a one-handed shot 15 feet from the net that Blatchley said went 90 miles per hour. Behind the main desk in Manley Field House sits a bronzed figurine of “Air Gait,” the historic play when Gait jumped from behind the crease and dunked the ball over the net.
“You know when I played it was easy,” Gait said. “It was always the next one. I never really focused on what was the better shot or what was the better play. It was always the thrill of having that next opportunity.”
Gait tries to keep the same mindset as a coach. He can’t help but think, “Oh my god, here we go,” when he receives some honor. Gait would rather be at home watching film, prepping for the next game. That’s why sometimes, during events, Gait pulls out his phone and types away whatever new strategy he just concocted to beat a stingy defense.
Gait rose from his chair and walked to the shelves. He looked around before reaching for a wooden box that rested on top of another. In the larger box lie many watches from a past lifetime filled with winning. He opened the smaller box and looked down at the cluttered mass of rings.
The Orange have been close twice. Two national championship trips have ended in losses, Northwestern in 2012 and Maryland in 2014. SU just needed a bounce here or a call there, Gait said.
“You need a little extra chemistry and it’ll happen,” Gait said. “So, we’re still trying to find that magic sprinkle of sugar on top to get the rest of that.”
He lifted up the ring from the 1990 championship season that the NCAA said doesn’t exist. Gait tried to put it on his ring finger but it didn’t fit. He settled for his pinkie. His coaching national championship ring will be put in the box eventually, he said, his next great moment thrown in with all the others.
“You get conference championship rings,” Gait said, referring to the rest. “But we need to get a national championship ring in there.”
Published on April 26, 2017 at 11:26 pm