Gary Gait has been the head coach of the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team for 14 years now.
In his decade and a half at the helm of the Orange, Gait has accomplished quite a lot. In 2008, he took over a fledgling Syracuse program that had picked up only one NCAA tournament win in its first 10 years of existence, and promptly led them to the Final Four in his first season.
He came out of the gates exactly the way you’d expect from one of the most legendary figures in the history of the sport: Like a man on fire.
He didn't just lead SU to the Final Four in his first year. He did it in seven of his first nine years. He immediately turned the Orange into a perennial contender worthy of stepping up to the challenge of the heavyweights such as Northwestern and Maryland.
Gait has consistently brought SU right up to the final boss level of the sport, as evidenced by his impressive 20-11 NCAA tournament record and the fact that he’s lead the program to Memorial Day weekend eight times in the 13 chances he’s had to do so.
The problem, of course, is that they have not yet been able to defeat the final boss and hoist the national championship trophy.
But the final boss is difficult to defeat for a reason. The last decade and a half of women’s college lacrosse has been dominated by three programs. In fact, 14 of the last 15 titles have been won by Northwestern (seven), Maryland (five) and North Carolina (two). The only exception since 2005 was James Madison in 2018.
Two of those programs, Northwestern and North Carolina, will once again be in-play this weekend down in Towson. It will be Gait and the Orange’s eighth try to break through the barrier surrounding the sport’s ultimate prize.
Eventually the barrier will be broken, be it on the eighth, ninth or tenth try. Or maybe the eleventh. However many it takes, you have to believe that Gait and his program will get it done at some point.
Whether that year is this year is yet to be seen, but I would argue that it actually doesn't matter.
This is already Gait’s best coaching job, isn’t it? Reaching the Final Four without arguably his two best players, showing everyone just how talented and deep a roster he and his staff have assembled.
I know I wasn’t the only one who thought the season was essentially over when Megan Carney went down with her ACL injury in the first Boston College game. Surely, that was too much firepower lost. First, Emily Hawryschuk, and now Carney, too? There’s just not enough left to compete with the heavyweights.
And yet, since that terrible moment, the Orange have beaten fellow Final Four team Boston College twice, competed with the best team in the country in the ACC championship game, and put an end to 12 and 15-game winning streaks against Loyola and Florida.
They’ve already proven my initial reaction to Carney’s injury wrong, multiple times over. How much more wrong can they prove me?
It doesn’t really matter, because Gait and his team have already proven their chops with the way they’ve played their entire 2021 season.
One day, the bell will toll for Gary Gait, and he’ll need to answer it by bringing home the first national title in Syracuse women’s lacrosse history.
Whether he can answer it this weekend or not, he won’t be hearing that bell this year.
This year has been his best work yet.