By Michael Coyne - bigeast.org
"Our goal is to win the national championship," says Syracuse women’s lacrosse head coach Gary Gait. He says it candidly, but with a sense of pride and lack of arrogance. It’s the cool confidence he has built around his team that expects to win, and usually does.
Coming off the best season in school history with 19 wins and a trip to the title game of the NCAA Championship, Syracuse (19-4, 8-0 BIG EAST) was picked to win the BIG EAST regular season title earlier this week. Recently we caught up with Coach Gait to preview the 2013 season and check on a team that returns 10 starters and 24 letterwinners. If all goes well, Gait and the Orange could add their first NCAA trophy to an illustrious history.
“It’s always nice when your conference recognizes you as the top team,” said Gait. “I’m honored by that. We’re excited to have a target on our back. It allows us to focus as the front runner.”
A native of Western Canada, Gait is in his sixth season with the Orange and has twice been selected as the BIG EAST Coach of the Year (2011 and 2012). Last year, Syracuse won a program-best 15 consecutive games and climbed as high as No. 2 in the national polls.
“Getting to the (NCAA) championship game last year allowed our players to get a taste of it and they want more,” said Gait. “(The players) have put in more work and effort than they ever have. You can see how excited they are for the opportunity to try and not just get back to the national championship game, but try and win it.”
Some publications have confirmed that, placing the Orange at No. 1 in the preseason rankings.
A Family Affair
With the 2013 season already underway for the Orange (a 21-8 victory at Jacksonville on Jan. 13), lacrosse fans have already gotten a sense of what they can expect from Syracuse this year. The win was believed to be the earliest Division I women’s lacrosse game ever.
“We thought it would be a great experience to try and bring our team together and create some early chemistry,” said Gait. “We thought it went the way we wanted it to and we were happy with it.” He continued, “We’re further along than we ever have been at this time in the season.”
The team includes a bevy of talented freshmen, including his daughter Taylor who joins the squad this year. She is recovering from a pair of ACL injuries, however, and will probably redshirt this season.
The Gaits are not the only father-daugher tandem with the Orange.
Assistant coach Reggie Thorpe, in his fourth season with the Orange, welcomes his daughter, sophomore Ella Thorpe, to the team. As a freshman last year she earned a redshirt and made her Orange debut in the Jacksonville win last week.
“We always talk about family here at Syracuse, and both myself and Reggie have daughters on the team,” said Gait. “But all of the freshmen will be a big part of 2013 for us.”
Syracuse’s recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the nation by Inside Lacrosse. Erica Bodt, Kelly Cross, Kayla Treanor and Caroline Webster were Under Armour All-Americans and were ranked among the top 20 incoming freshmen. Treanor started and had five goals in the season-opener at Jacksonville.
“Defensively, a couple will step up,” said Gait. “As the year goes on, we’ll have opportunities on that end of the field as well.”
The team will also have the services of unanimous BIG EAST Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Becca Block. The senior anchored a defense that allowed just 8.87 goals per game last season, a figure which led the league and ranked 11th nationally.
On the other side of the field, all-world senior Michelle Tumolo returns to lead the attack. Named as the BIG EAST Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, Tumolo scored a career-high 95 points in 2012. She also was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award and was named the BIG EAST Attack Player of the Year. She joins current assistant coach Katie Rowan as the only players in school history to record 200 points and 100 assists in a career.
“They’re both captains,” said Gait, “Michelle for the second year. One leading the offensive side, one leading the defensive end. Their confidence level is pretty high. I don’t think they’ll settle for anything less than a national championship. That’s their goal, they’re focused on it and that’s the way they’re leading this team.”
Overall, Syracuse returns five of its top six scorers from last season, including junior Alyssa Murray, who led the nation in points (105) and goals (74) in 2012. Tumolo finished sixth in the country in points (95) and 10th in assists (43). Both players earned first team All-America honors. In addition, junior Katie Webster posted career highs in points (53), goals (38) and assists (15) last season and was named a third team All-American.
A Look Ahead
Syracuse will travel back to Florida to take on the U.S. National Team on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. ET Saturday as part of Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event. The Orange have their home-opener set against national power Maryland on Feb. 17 at the Carrier Dome.
Gait and the team are familiar with Maryland, having faced them last year and coming away with a 10-9 victory in College Park on March 10. Gait also spent seven years as an assistant coach at Maryland (1995-01).
“They are a very difficult team, a Final Four team year in and year out with numerous national championships,” said Gait. “They are the last team, besides Northwestern, to win the national championship in the last eight years (coming in 2010).”
A Look Back
Prior to getting into coaching, Gait was the top men’s player in the country and helped revolutionize the sport. A four-time All-American with the Orange (1987-90), he helped Syracuse to three NCAA titles. He holds the Syracuse career goals record at 192 and the single-season goals record at 70, an NCAA record until 2008.
One of his most notable playing highlights was “Air Gait” in the 1988 NCAA Championship. The score aided Syracuse in a 13-8 win over Cornell for the first of three national titles.
In 1997, the NCAA Lacrosse Committee named Gait, along with his twin brother and Syracuse teammate, Paul, to the 25th Anniversary Lacrosse team.
More recently, Gait and his brother Paul each received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. The medallion was created by the Canadian government to honor the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the Throne and is being presented to 60,000 Canadians whose achievements have benefited their fellow citizens, their community, their organization and the country.
“It was nice and I’m very honored and proud to be recognized,” said Gait.
There’s no doubt it would be nice to add another honor to his collection, an NCAA title.