How the Gaits have revolutionized women’s lacrosse sticks

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first_imgSteve Levy watched his daughter Nicole glide across the turf, amazed at the chunk of plastic in her hands. Nicole, then a high school sophomore, was at a Syracuse-sponsored women’s lacrosse camp run by Orange head coach Gary Gait. She used an SU-branded stick, one of many sold at the camp, strung by Gait. Steve noticed how well the pocket held the ball and allowed Nicole to cradle from different angles. Hoping to recreate it for his players at East Islip (New York) High School, he snapped pictures of the stick head with his phone. He didn’t know then, but that pocket was the result of a near 30-year trial-and-error experiment by Gait, his twin brother Paul and other brother Bob Gait. No. 16 Syracuse (8-6, 0-4 Atlantic Coast) has 43 players on its roster. All of them use sticks strung by Gait. He uses pieces manufactured by his brothers’ company, Laxpocket. The interconnected twine, mesh and leather are the Gait family’s latest gift to lacrosse, a sport they defined and are now trying to innovate.“The modern pocket is a pocket that evolved from something that, you know, I came up with,” Gait said. “Now, I think every top school in D1 uses it.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMaryland, Hofstra and Florida are programs that also use Laxpocket stick heads. Some schools, like Michigan, commission the Laxpocket staff to string all its sticks. Others, like North Carolina, have specialists — who are often team assistants — order materials from Laxpocket and string the sticks themselves.Gait said he allows his players to string their own sticks, but they just prefer him to do it. Multiple SU players have said that Gait’s ability to have the pocket high up on a stick is invaluable. The stick pocket, according to NCAA rules, cannot be larger than 1.68-inches in diameter. Senior captain Riley Donahue said that Gait’s pockets are deep but not “illegally deep,” as no Syracuse stick has been flagged for being illegal this season.A deep pocket allows a player more control with the ball, giving attacks more leverage when they attack the goal. SU’s offense ranks second in the ACC and 18th overall with more than 15 scores a game. “Oh my gosh, it’s awesome,” freshman attack Mackenzie Baker said. “I’ve played with sticks in the past and then playing with sticks that he has worked on, it’s a huge difference.”The Gaits have had a history of modifying sticks to their advantage. Gary said he started stringing sticks as a child when he learned from older players. In college, while leading the Syracuse men’s team to two national titles, he and his brother Paul would discuss stringing techniques and design new equipment. Paul was photographed in 2001 while playing for Major League Lacrosse’s Long Island Lizards, and others noticed his new invention: a lime-green tracker pocket. After that, he was approached to design new products. He created a blended-leather mesh and transferred that to the women’s game. He founded Laxpocket in 2016 after working for a variety of athletic equipment companies. His company operates out of a barn and an office/showroom in Guiderland, and it hand-weaves clients’ custom stick heads using Paul’s patented rail-elite model. Bob Gait joined him and invented a pedaling-powered leather stretcher that allows the leather to flow through the stick head. Their sister, Debby, runs customer service. “It’s a family affair, to some degree,” Jenny Riitano Levy, a founding member of Laxpocket with no relation to SU’s Levy, said. “They are all amazing people, but their minds are unreal.”She said Gait has been a “testing ground” for their products. The modern rail pocket, which Laxpocket is trying to integrate into the men’s game, was the end result of a late-night conversation trying to find a suitable mix of leather and mesh materials.There is no way to tell how much Gait has meant to the evolution of sticks. The brothers are constantly talking about new ideas, just like they’ve done their whole lives.Gait said it takes him about 20 minutes to string a stick. He customized certain sticks to players, incorporating diamond meshes and alterations to the sidewalls. Throughout the last year, the modern sticks have bled over into the high school game, Riitano Levy said.SU-branded camp sticks, like the one Nicole Levy fell in love with and her father wanted to replicate, now are more than a souvenir. They are an entryway into a world that the Gaits helped create, and SU midfielder Taylor Gait, Gary’s daughter, knows it. “You know they are going to come to ‘Cuse because of the ‘Cuse stick,” she said. Comments Published on April 10, 2018 at 9:08 am Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarez Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more