Gary Gait heads into 10th matchup against Maryland years after transforming sport with Cindy Timchal

first_imgA women’s lacrosse game has all the markings of Gary Gait and Cindy Timchal. From the lines on the field, the sticks in players’ hands and the skirts on players’ waists, Gait and Timchal moved forward an undeveloped game.Women’s lacrosse was brutal to watch in the mid-1990s, said John Blatchley, a friend of Gait and his fellow assistant at Maryland for two years. Whistles constantly stopped play and Blatchley estimates only about 500 people showed up to an NCAA championship game in the mid-1990s — a fraction of the 10,311 fans that showed up to the 2014 title game.There was no out of bounds. The referees determined when the players moved too close to a wall, the stands or the bench, too far from the game. With Gait as an assistant coach, Timchal won seven national titles as Maryland’s head coach from 1994–2002, the first being in 1995.Twenty years later, Gait, Syracuse’s eight-year head coach, will lead his No. 5 Orange against Maryland — the school where Gait and Timchal constantly re-evaluated and revamped women’s lacrosse — on Saturday for the 10th time in his career.“She wanted to move the game forward, she was very progressive in her thought,” Gait said. “I certainly supported those ideas and always have and did.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textGait — who won two national championships and holds the record for goals in his career at Syracuse from 1987–90 — originally planned on just playing professionally, not coaching. But his daughter Taylor had recently been born, so he decided to take Timchal’s offer to be an assistant coach on a whim.“It was kind of out of the box,” Timchal said, “I felt just watching Gary play for Syracuse — his style was very unique — I thought his style wasn’t your normal brute strength.”While Timchal coached at Northwestern in the 1980s, she pushed the United States Women’s Lacrosse Association to change the size of a goalie stick. Unlike in the men’s game, a women’s goalie’s stick had been the size of a field player’s stick, but she successfully petitioned to change that, said Nancy Stevens, Timchal’s former assistant at Northwestern and now Connecticut’s field hockey coach.Some disliked the move because they thought goalies would save too many shots, Stevens said. When Timchal brought in Gait, she faced further pushback. Stevens said other coaches were afraid of Timchal and Gait making the women’s game into the men’s game.“At the time, it was not a popular decision among her colleagues,” Stevens said. “Some people thought of it as a kind of unwritten rule like, ‘We don’t hire men.’“… People were aghast.”Gait was equally aghast at the rules of the sport. There was no contact allowed, meaning games had endless whistles, no out of bounds lines and no restraining lines, which limit the number of players that can play on one end of the field. Coaches could stand anywhere — even on the other team’s sideline.Two or three years into coaching at Maryland, Gait asked Erin Brown Millon, a co-worker at sports equipment company STX, “What is the deal with these rules?” But he read the rulebook, took the lineless field and made it his personal canvas.Most teams dropped three defenders back and played with eight offensive players.Not Gait.He threw all 11 field players forward on offense, which disrupted half-field play. As teams started picking up on the trend, Gait’s innovation was soon followed by the NCAA’s addition of restraining lines in 1998.“He was so smart in figuring out how some aspects of the men’s game could fit into the women’s game, but he also took the time to really understand the women’s game and really make it better,” said Missy Doherty, a UMD player from 1994–97 and now Penn State’s head coach.While men’s lacrosse uses a white ball, women’s lacrosse uses a yellow one. In the late 1980s, Syracuse men’s lacrosse started playing with all white heads and mesh on their sticks, making it harder to track the white ball out of the stick.At Maryland, Gait had his players use yellow heads for the same reason. Gait even had the stick of Alex Kahoe, a Maryland goalie from 1997–2000, strung yellow in case he ever ran a hidden-ball trick with his goalie.That’s where Gait may have made his biggest difference in women’s lacrosse — the stick. Gait helped players enhance their stick skills, a trait he was known for while he played.“It wasn’t just a men’s player saying, ‘This is how we should do it,’ and then showing stuff and using a guy’s stick,” Brown Millon said. “… He actually walked the walk, playing with a women’s stick.”He allowed Maryland players to be more creative than they had ever been before, throwing behind-the-back passes and doing around-the-worlds, a move where the player brings the stick behind them and shoots forward.He also helped push along the redesign of the stick itself. When Maryland faced Princeton in the 1995 national championship — Gait’s second year of coaching — the Tigers still used wooden sticks.The first time he spoke at an Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association convention, he made a presentation about the benefits of plastic sticks over wooden sticks. Gait said about half the coaches agreed that plastic sticks are more balanced and give players better control of the ball. A wood stick had less of a pocket and the ball sat at the base of the head, instead of by the shooting strings.“I think I told them to burn their wooden sticks,” Gait said. “I gave reasons why and I demonstrated and I think we went on to prove the plastic stick era was well on its way.”Gait even further influenced equipment, too. Under Armour, founded in Maryland, worked with Gait on designing light kilts for the players to wear. At the same time Gait was helping Under Armour design its first products, he was working on footwear products with Nike.His women’s lacrosse reformation is still unfinished. The men’s game has added stall warnings and an ensuing shot clock, but women’s contests can turn into keep-away late in games.Gait’s called for a shot clock numerous times.“I would like to see it,” Gait said after a slow game against Boston College on Saturday, “but that’s just me. I’m just one person.”But if Gait’s past is any indication, it may not take much more than that. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 4, 2015 at 12:25 am Contact Chris: cjlibona@syr.edu | @ChrisLibonatilast_img

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