In honor of NCAA Division III Week (April 7th-11th) and the 40th anniversary of Division III sports, SUNYIT will be spotlighting one senior athlete each day this week across the campus's video boards. Each athlete selected embodies the philosophy and spirit of Division III athletics, and has demonstrated outstanding leadership both in the classroom and on the field of play. For more information on Division III Week, check out the Division III Week page on NCAA.org.
Today's featured SUNYIT senior athlete is Brett Gifford (Cazenovia, N.Y. / Cazenovia). Brett is a long-stick midfielder on the SUNYIT men's lacrosse team, and hails from Cazenovia, N.Y.
Gifford transferred to SUNYIT prior to his junior year and had an immediate impact on the SUNYIT Men's Lacrosse program. Only in its second season after the sport returned to SUNYIT in 2012, the program had understandably struggled to compete against more established programs in the lacrosse hot-bed that is Central New York.
All that changed in 2013, and Gifford had plenty to do with that. The 5-10 defender helped lead the Wildcats to 4-straight wins late in the season, and a chance to make the NEAC Tournament heading into their final game of the season, a home game versus Hilbert. The Wildcats wound up losing a heartbreaker, 12-11 in overtime, but Gifford was nevertheless outstanding in defeat, leading SUNYIT with 5 goals – 4 of which came in the second half – and picking up 6 groundballs while causing 3 turnovers. SUNYIT finished the season with 5 wins, more than double their total from the season before, and Gifford was named to the All-NEAC 1st Team, the SUNYIT program's first selection to the top all-conference team.
In addition to his on-field heroics, Gifford maintains a sparkling GPA as a major in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and was one of 35 SUNYIT selections to the NEAC Scholar-Athlete Team last year.
"To me, Brett's the kind of kid that impresses you with his ability to absorb information quickly," said SUNYIT Head Coach Brent Dodge, "He's able to take what we tell him and apply it immediately; his lacrosse IQ is so high."
An example of this occurred during the 2013 season, in which SUNYIT had been having difficulty scoring in man-up situations – an area in which the offense has a clear advantage. Gifford is a rare player – he uses a long-stick typically reserved for defenders, but possesses such excellent stick skills that he remains heavily involved in the Wildcat offense, recording 23 goals and 11 assists last year. However, Gifford's use of the long pole makes him inherently more vulnerable to checks from defenders, and according to Coach Dodge early last season he was getting too far into the other team's defense, and doing so too early on man-up situations.
Said Dodge, "We were trying to fix our man-up situation, so I said to him 'you have to do 1 of 2 things, either stay out of trouble or switch to a short-stick.'"
According to Dodge, Gifford wasn't wild about the idea of abandoning the long-stick. It didn't matter, because since that one conversation in 2013 it hasn't been a problem – in fact, Gifford ended up scoring 6 goals in man-up situations last season.
"What jumps out to me is that it was one conversation and he was immediately able to change," said Dodge, "We [the coaching staff] haven't had to talk about it since. Not many players can do that."