Orange Watch: Gary Gait, Syracuse women’s lax with another shot to slay giant

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Syracuse coach Gary Gait and the Orange women’s lacrosse team faces recent nemesis Maryland in the NCAA semifinals Friday outside Philadelphia.

Item: Well, maybe this Syracuse sports season to forget will end up on a happy note after all. With the “Big Three” having gone 3-9 in football, 18-13 in basketball, and as the No. 2 seed ousted in the quarterfinals of the NCAA lacrosse tournament, if Gary Gait’s No. 4 seeded women’s team knocks off the sport’s Goliath, top-seed and defending champion Maryland Friday night in the NCAA semifinals at PPL Park outside of Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET / ESPN3), they’ll be back in the title game for the second straight year, looking to get one last victory against either ACC counterparts North Carolina or Duke, to secure the elusive first women’s lax crown in program history.

The story was a shocker in the small, insular world of women’s college lacrosse in late summer 2007.

Gary Gait was doing what? Leaving as the head coach of the Colorado Mammoth in the professional National Lacrosse League to take over as head coach at Syracuse?

Indeed, former AD Daryl Gross pried Gait out of Denver to return to his alma mater with an unheard of compensation package for a women’s lacrosse coach, a promise (and timeline) for better facilities, Gait’s personal goal of coaching his daughter Taylor in college (the junior midfielder has scored a team fourth-best 25 goals this season and also wears the familiar No. 22 on her back), and an edict to win the national championship.

First season out of the “Gait” there was a Final Four appearance in 2008. Then another two years later, and now there’s been four straight Final Fours, and two championship game appearances, but no ring.

» Related: Syracuse falls short of its goal in loss to Hopkins

Standing in the way has been the sport’s powerhouses, first Northwestern in 2012, and for the last three years, Maryland, where ironically, Gait was part of seven consecutive NCAA women’s lacrosse title teams between 1995-2001 under legendary coach Cindy Timchal (“The best thing I learned from her was how to be a head coach.”), and now again faces one of his former Terps players in current UM coach Cathy Reese whose team has won the last six meetings; three times in 2014 alone including the title game, and this season’s 10-7 victory on March 7 at College Park.

“Everybody’s had a hard time with Maryland, not just us,” Gait chuckled during a pre-Final Four NCAA conference call Monday afternoon about the 19-1 Terps who’s lone loss came in the Big Ten tournament to Ohio State, and who only have three defeats total over the past three seasons.

“We played them early in the season when we were (in the process of) replacing eight starters, and developing the chemistry and looks of this new group has also been a (season long) process. We’re looking forward to getting back and playing them again. It’s always fun when you get the chance to play against the best, and certainly Maryland’s the best.”

In a game that will feature headliners Kayla Treanor of SU and Taylor Cummings of Maryland, along with a plethora of talent scattered all around the field, like in the men’s game, the draws for possession are most critical, especially with no shot clock in the women’s rule book.

Can the Orange pull the upset Friday night? Sure, Ohio State’s May1 win over UM with two long scoring runs proves the “on any given day” theory. But more importantly for the Orange program, two more wins would finally end an eight year quest to take it to the top of the sport.

“We talk about it all the time that our goal is to win the national championship,” Gait said Monday. “We’re just trying to put our best foot forward and play our best game when we need to. Anytime you win championships, sometimes it’s a few whistles your way, it’s a lucky bounce, and you put in a great performance, and that combination usually delivers you a championship.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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