aylor Gait walked off the field after a fourth straight NCAA tournament loss to Maryland, the last chance the No. 1 recruiting class had at capturing a national title. As she left the field, she knew she’d return to Syracuse. Gait still had two more years of eligibility because of medical redshirts. But that legendary recruiting class was finished.
The 23-year-old redshirt junior enters 2017 with a spate of revenge. For two years, she watched as her teammates walked off the field in defeat. The next two, she joined them. Now in her fifth year at Syracuse, Gait is hungry to lead one of No. 6 Syracuse’s youngest teams to its first national title.
“We’re hoping she’ll be the one that can give them some guidance,” said Gary Gait, Syracuse’s head coach and Taylor’s father. “ … She can’t go out and just be a part of it.”
This season marks the first time since Gait’s junior year of high school that she has been healthy three straight years. Though she provided back-to-back 20-goal seasons in her first two years, Gait feels she has reached her peak athletic ability. With seven knee surgeries in her rear view, she’s poised for a fresh start.
“I don’t want to say I’m the fastest,” she said. “But I’m certainly up there.”
She said she’s a “lone wolf” on the team. Despite the great friends and teammates, she is the oldest, the most experienced and the only player left from the top recruiting class that could never get over the hump. Once known for her seven knee surgeries, the small blonde girl with a big laugh is leading a hungry pack.
Her knee injuries plagued her, but are the reason she still has two more seasons of eligibility. She first tore her left ACL and meniscus in her junior year of high school and had seven knee surgeries since. For three straight years, Gait did not play lacrosse.
“Being injured and sitting out you have that self-doubt,” Gait said. “You have that voice in your head saying: ‘Are you going to be as good as you once were? Are you going to be able to cut and run? Are your stick stills going to be what they once were?’”
Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor
During her true freshman and sophomore years, she watched from the sidelines as her father led the team to back-to-back Final Fours, including one national championship game appearance. Gait picked up nuances in the game that she had not seen before getting hurt. She saw breakdowns in plays, offensive schemes and had an overall different mindset of the game.
After the injuries, doctors told Gait she may lose her speed and quickness on the field. But she said she hasn’t missed a beat. She doesn’t wear a brace on her knee because the first time she did, she tore her meniscus. She said she is in full health and can now “have four fresh years.”
In the last two years, Gait scored 54 points on 47 goals and registered a 39.8 goal percentage on her shots. Her work in the midfield helped spur Syracuse to back-to-back Final Fours, where she was named on the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team in 2015.
As the coach’s daughter, and the “grandmother” on the team, Gait serves much more than a leader. She is somewhat of a player-coach.
As she has gotten older, players come to the team’s most tenured member for advice. Her father expects her to be the next go-to player on the team on a championship-caliber team. He said she has to bring her game to the next level.
The team is going to need her improved stick skills if it returns to the Final Four this year. Losing the strongest class in program history, combined with introducing its youngest team, bodes for a learning curve. And the team must rely on its rising stars in order to return to that prestige.
Banner photo by Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor
Published on February 9, 2017 at 12:47 am
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