Orange Watch: Title remains elusive for Syracuse’s Gary Gait

Gary Gait
Gary Gait among Lacrosse All Stars waiting for the skills competition at the 2005 National Lacrosse League All-Star Game, February 26, 2005, Calgary.

Item: Almost 14 years after he was hired to a big buck’s contract by former athletic director Daryl Gross to make the Syracuse women’s lacrosse team a perennial national championship contender, head coach Gary Gait has checked off all but the very last box on the list of accomplishments he set out to achieve when he accepted the position to return to his alma mater in August 2007.

It is one of our all-time great memories when interviewing a Syracuse athlete following a game, and in this case a defeat.

Following the Orangemen’s 1987 lacrosse national semifinal loss against Cornell (18-15) at Rutgers Stadium, and before he even took the first question from the few media members in a spare space adjacent to the team’s locker room, Gary Gait vowed, “we won’t lose another game for the rest of my career here (at SU).”

That was quite a statement considering Gait had three more years of eligibility, and the likes of Cornell and Johns Hopkins in the small world of Division I lacrosse were annual ominous opponents.

Well, Gait turned out to be a pretty good prognosticator, off by just one loss (14-13 to Hopkins in the 1989 season opener). The ‘Cuse tallied a 42-1 record with three national championships to cap off his eventual Hall of Fame Orange tenure.

The rest of Gait’s playing career and college coaching ledger are just as extraordinary as his days playing in the Dome, except for now missing three times (2012, 2014, 2021) on providing the guidance needed, and getting a little lucky, for the Syracuse women’s team to have the opportunity to exalt in the last game of the season and hoist the gold NCAA trophy.

» Related: Syracuse gets eliminated from NCAA Tournament by Georgetown

This past Sunday’s 16-10 title game defeat to Boston College in Towson, Md. may have brought the program one more lesson; stay focused and hungry because it will pay off. 2021 was perhaps Gait’s finest coaching job, considering the irregularities brought on by the continued fight against COVID-19, and the injury losses of a couple of key players including his headliner on attack, Emily Hawryschuk (torn ACL).

BC had lost the last three championship games and only held a 9-8 halftime lead Sunday over Gait’s overachieving group, before its business-like approach, and some uncharacteristic lack of composure amongst a few SU players, left little doubt that the Eagles were not losing the fourth meeting of the year (SU won 2-of-3) against their longtime ACC rival.

“It was a tough day on the field, we couldn’t catch many breaks, and we didn’t,” Gait said in his usual straight-on approach during the postgame press conference. “There’s a lot of what-ifs. You can’t talk about that because it’s not what happened. You’ve just got to move on, and I will.”

Now its Gait’s program that has a trio of title game losses to ponder in an otherwise rise to prominence in the sport. He’ll continue to coach with his professorial touch, bring in talented recruits with All American potential, and he already knows he’ll have Hawryschuk returning in 2022 for her sixth season.

“It’s been amazing to have players step up and do what they did when Emily Hawryschuk goes down, and Megan Carney goes down, and we still managed to get ourselves to the championship game,” Gait said Sunday. “It’s been an amazing year. It’s behind us now. We’ll come back next year ready to play.”

The 2022 Final Four is at Homewood Field on the Johns Hopkins campus, as appropriate a locale as any to win a championship for someone with the lacrosse pedigree of Gary Gait.

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About Brad Bierman 743 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.