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Protégé, mentor to tangle again in women’s lacrosse when Jen Adams’ Loyola Maryland hosts Gary Gait’s Syracuse

Loyola Maryland coach Jen Adams speaks on TV after defeating Navy, 21-9, to win the Patriot League title in 2019.
Loyola Maryland coach Jen Adams speaks on TV after defeating Navy, 21-9, to win the Patriot League title in 2019. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Under normal circumstances, before Saturday’s women’s lacrosse game between Loyola Maryland and Syracuse, coaches Jen Adams and Gary Gait would make it a point to navigate their way between players warming up and balls flying through the air to greet, hug and exchange well-wishes and jokes.

But there’s hardly anything usual about the 2021 season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“We’d typically catch each other as soon as we got out on the field,” said Adams, who is entering her 13th season as coach of the Greyhounds. “We’d find each other and catch up for a chat before we kind of got down to business. But I imagine this year will be a little different with that.”

Gait suggested he and Adams can still make conversation by standing on opposite sides of the substitution box on the field.

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“I’m sure we can stand across the box from each other and have our normal little chat and joke around a little bit and have some fun before the game,” the 14-year Syracuse coach said. “At least I’m still hope that we can do that. I can’t stand near her or hug her or anything like that, but it’ll be nice to see her with masks up and ready to go.”

The game at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore at noon will officially kick off the season for the No. 4 Orange and the No. 5 Greyhounds, a pair of teams harboring high, yet cautious hopes that they will be able to make deep runs in May during the NCAA tournament. And on the heels of Sunday’s tilt between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Stony Brook, Saturday’s game is must-see for many fans, as well as some coaches.

Syracuse women's lacrosse coach Gary Gait.
Syracuse women's lacrosse coach Gary Gait. (P Photo/The Post-Standard, Jim Commentucci)

“This is huge this early in the season,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “We were all able to watch one this past weekend with Carolina and Stony Brook, which was so great for our sport to get these games out there. So I’m sure they’re both so excited to get their seasons started, especially when the teams that they’re playing are so good.”

Guiding the teams will be Gait and Adams, who revolutionized college lacrosse when they were players, thrived in a mentor-protégé relationship when they were at Maryland and have molded their teams into championship contenders.

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Their friendship began at the 1995 Under-19 World Championship in Haverford, Pennsylvania, when Adams was a member of the Australian national team that edged the United States for the title. Gait, who was the Terps assistant coach specializing in offense, and Cindy Timchal, who was the head coach, attended the tournament, and Gait visited Adams at the airport in Philadelphia to pitch to her the idea of attending college and playing at Maryland.

Adams said the Canadian-born Gait’s background as an international player who starred at Syracuse was instrumental in getting her to commit to leaving her native country.

“I think from Day One when I stepped on College Park’s campus, Gary reminded me all the time of taking nothing for granted and really utilizing the opportunity to play the game at the highest level in a way that I wouldn’t have access to necessarily in Australia,” she said. “So I was taking those words and those sentiments and really making sure that I was making the most of every single day and every opportunity that I had out on the field to learn from these world-class coaches and play with the best players and have the facilities and the access to being a student-athlete and getting an education at Maryland.

“So he taught me to be grateful, to be humble, to take every opportunity that came my way and make the most of it, and I think that’s a message that he shares with every student-athlete as they go through, I’m sure, but it certainly had a lot of merit and a lot of weight with someone who was away from her family and had to grow up quickly and do everything on her own and show some initiative.”

Gait, who still holds Syracuse records for career goals (192) and single-season goals (70) and a share of the mark for single-game goals (nine), called coaching Adams “a privilege.”

“She was the greatest player that played at that time and led her team to four national championships and was a student of the game and wanted to understand why the team was successful and how to make it successful,” he said. “I think all that has carried over to her coaching style where she’s got a lot of attention to detail and she’s always thinking about ways to improve her team and make them better and evaluating the skills that they have.

“It’s been fun watching all of the game film to prep for this game to see all of the different things she’s done and picked up.”

Under Gait’s tutelage, Adams and the Terps reigned in the last four of a seven-year run as NCAA champions. Adams remains the program’s all-time leader in points (445), assists (178) and ground balls (272) and ranks second in goals (267) only to Megan Whittle (298 from 2015 to 2018).

Timchal said Gait and Adams were perfect for each other.

“I think it was a wonderful blend of Gary Gait’s great coaching and knowledge of the game of lacrosse and Jen Adams’ passion to play,” recalled Timchal, now the head coach at Navy. “They’re both very passionate players, and at the time, Gary wasn’t far removed from the level of success he had at Syracuse. So now you have the professional coaching relationships and the longtime memories as a player and a coach working together at Maryland to having the opportunity to compete against each other.”

Reese, who was an assistant with the Terps from 1999 to 2004, quipped that the coaches would send Gait and Adams to lead the stickwork demonstration at the university’s summer camps and sit back to watch the two astound campers.

“Gary is so good offensively and creative, and that’s the kind of player Jen is,” Reese said. “She’s creative, she’s knowledgeable, her lax IQ is through the roof. So the combination of them together was obviously a huge piece alongside Cindy that led the Terps to four championships during Jen’s playing time.”

When Adams succeeded Kerri O’Day as coach of the Greyhounds after the 2008 season, she inherited a program that resided in the Big East and tangled annually with Syracuse, which Gait took over in 2007. Even after Loyola left the conference in 2013 to join the Patriot League, the Greyhounds and Orange made it a point to schedule games against each other annually.

That long history — in addition to tangling with Timchal and the Midshipmen annually in the Patriot League and Reese and Maryland in the NCAA tournament — has helped Adams brace for facing mentors such as Gait. She has also tapped into her experiences with Gait to aid her development as a coach.

“He had this very relaxed, laid-back demeanor,” she said of Gait. “He did all of the work in the practices, and then he really gave us the reins to play the game and let it unfold. It’s something I loved as a player, and I certainly have tried to instill that in my players as their coach.”

Gait said he takes delight in studying the Greyhounds offense and identifying traces of Adams’ influence.

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“You can see the little plays that she’s developed and the way she thinks how the defense will react,” he said. “It’s fun to see those — whether it’s a little trick play on an 8-meter [free-position chance] or whether it’s the offense and how she utilizes a flip or a pick-and-roll. You see those strategies, and it’s fun to kind of have an idea of why she’s doing it and understand how it works. I think she’s doing a great job.”

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Timchal said Loyola reflects Adams’ lacrosse IQ and Syracuse is embodied by Gait’s emphasis on stickwork. She also said both teams excel on offense because of the confidence instilled by their coaches.

“They allow their players the freedom to really do it themselves,” she said. “They attack from everywhere, and when you empower your offense, you then give them the opportunity to say after the game when they step off the field, ‘We did it ourselves. We made our own decisions.’ … If you’re standing on the sideline and they’re getting up and down the field and playing and having fun and working hard and they don’t have to look to the sideline for help, you’ve trained them to know what to do in situations, and I think that’s what both of these teams have done.

“They know what to expect, and they’ll be going into this game fully prepared.”

Both Adams and Gait said there is a bittersweet element to trying to help their teams defeat each other.

“It’s always tough, but we’re all competitive people, and we all have that same value,” Adams said. “But we’re able to put the game away once the game is done and know that we’ve always got each other’s back.”

Said Gait: “You know that friends have the same mindset, especially the ones that I know very well and have coached. They have a very similar mentality, that if you’re going to play, you might as well win, and you want to do what you can to help your team have success. You just compete, but when the game’s over, you shake hands and give them a hug.”

NO. 4 SYRACUSE@NO. 5 LOYOLA MARYLAND

Saturday, noon

Streaming: ESPN+

Orange crush

Starting in 2006, Loyola Maryland and Syracuse tangled annually as members of the Big East. Even when the Greyhounds moved to the Patriot League in 2014, Jen Adams and Gary Gait continued to schedule games in the regular season. Since 2009, Adams’ debut as Loyola’s coach, Syracuse owns an 11-3 record in the series, but the Greyhounds are 2-1 in postseason meetings. Here is a look at the rivalry.

Date; Result

April 5, 2009; Syracuse, 17-10

April 16, 2010; Syracuse, 13-11

April 29, 2011; Syracuse, 10-9

May 5, 2011; Loyola, 12-11

April 27, 2012; Syracuse, 13-12

May 5, 2012; Loyola 13-7,

April 26, 2013; Syracuse 19-9,

May 3, 2014; Syracuse, 14-12 (OT)

May 2, 2015; Loyola, 9-8

May 16, 2015; Syracuse, 10-7

Feb. 14, 2016; Syracuse, 17-6

April 5, 2017; Syracuse, 16-11

April 5, 2018; Syracuse, 12-11

Feb. 27, 2019; Syracuse, 15-11

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