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RING IT IN: After trying four sports, Sam Swart is “all in” to bring Syracuse a NCAA championship

first_imgSam Swart looked around Gary Gait’s office, and her eyes wandered toward a small box on top of one of his bookshelves. Gait and Swart’s mother, Maryann, were talking about a potential verbal commitment to Syracuse when Swart walked over and opened it.As the lid slid open, Swart opened her mouth: “Wow, really?” They both turned her way, pausing their discussion. Swart observed the mob of Gait’s rings  — conference titles, NCAA title runs and professional accolades. Maryann told her to put them back. But Gait laughed. In seconds, Swart filled her tiny hands with the jewelry, one ring per finger until they were filled.“When she had those rings on,” Maryann said, “she felt like a champion.”The eighth-grader, days away from committing to No. 13 Syracuse, knew she wanted her own. She starred in three sports — lacrosse, field hockey and basketball — at her high school, Archbishop John Carroll (Pennsylvania). They led her to become the versatile left-handed midfielder she is today.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIf it wasn’t for basketball, she wouldn’t know how to juke. Without spin moves on the pitch, she couldn’t blow by collegiate lacrosse defenders. Swart’s breakout first season, in which she was third on SU with 36 goals, has led Gait to call her one of his hardest working players and one of the Orange’s best two-way midfielders. It’s a byproduct of her multisport repertoire. And for now, she’s “all-in” on Syracuse lacrosse.“It’s kinda sad, to be honest. I’m not as busy,” Swart said. “It’s kinda a break for me, but it’s also a chance to become a better player.”,Swart watched her sister, Gabrielle, win state and national titles, eventually earning a spot on the United States travel gymnastics team. But Gabrielle “blew out” her knee before the Olympics, and effectively ended her gymnastics career.Eventually, the thought of ending up injured, like her sister, scared Swart, so she quit. Gabrielle still struggled to find a new focus. One day, the then-13-year-old Swart tricked her sister to practice field hockey with her.“I didn’t tell her I was teaching her,” Swart said. “She would’ve been mad.”“Help me insert the ball,” Swart said to her. Gabrielle did. Swart needed someone to pass to, then. That’s not too much to ask, Gabrielle thought. “Can you score on the run, now, like me?” Swart said to her. Gabrielle got the hang of field hockey, even enjoyed playing it. Swart redirected the coaches scouting her for a potential field hockey scholarship to her older sister.Gabrielle played field hockey for Kutztown after her middle school sister taught her the basics. She didn’t need to only do gymnastics, be one-dimensional. Swart didn’t need to be, either.• • •In seventh grade, Swart saw Gait in the distance at a local lacrosse game she was playing in. She knew him, and of course the school he coached. The 12 year old thought back to her pair of “Jordan Melo” basketball sneakers that her dad, Mike, gave her two years prior. She remembered all of the Syracuse basketball games they shared together in their Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, home then.Gabrielle could see Swart was nervous about approaching Gait. Her older sister had been through it before: she’d committed to Louisville as an eighth grader. She told Swart to just tell him her name, why she’s so fast and determined, what she desires. Speak from your heart, she said. Swart was ready, but then she opened her mouth.“Hi, I’m Sam. I’m from Philly, but you probably don’t really care,” Swart said to Gait. “I want to play for you.”Gait nodded. He said he’d see her around. Their first interaction may have not gone as planned, Gabrielle said, but Swart knew her future: She wanted to play lacrosse for Syracuse. Swart liked the finesse of lacrosse, how it wasn’t a traditional game like field hockey. There were always new moves, dodges, shots that could be done.A 40-mile move from her middle school in Coopersburg to Archbishop Carroll solidified her commitment to lacrosse but didn’t end her multisport madness. Waking up to an hour, sometimes 90-minute drive to Radnor forced Swart to call the school’s secretary, Barbara Volpe, and tell her she’d miss homeroom. After classes came practice and games for two, even three different sports in a day. Regularly, Maryann — who didn’t want to make the trip back home across eastern Pennsylvania — would wait in her car, sometimes up to five hours after lacrosse practice ended.,When Swart got home, usually at about 9:30 p.m., it wouldn’t stop. Hundreds of shots on her front lawn in the dark swung into her new Christmas gift, her own lacrosse net. Her skills grew, eventually earning her the nickname “Lightning” from teammates because of her speed.Swart slowly started to eliminate basketball from her life, divvying her time into field hockey and lacrosse. In lacrosse, Carroll rattled off 17-straight victories in Swart’s final season. And after she was double and triple-teamed in Carroll’s final two playoff games, she scored the school’s two final goals in its state championship win.After the title, Swart ordered a state championship ring engraved with her grandfather’s initials, but it surprised her.“She was like ‘Wow this is so small compared to Gary’s rings,’” Maryann said.• • •Swart had fully committed to playing lacrosse as a ninth grader, but the possibility of playing field hockey loomed in her mind when she joined the U-19 U.S. national team, coached by SU head coach Ange Bradley. Bradley knew Swart’s priority was lacrosse, Swart said, but kept an open offer to the incoming freshman.After four years of anticipation to play for her dream team and coach, Swart was locked out. Her inaugural fall ball, preseason before her freshman season, was canceled due to a mumps outbreak. Her key cards in Manley Field House were denied. The freshman had to wait longer.,What ensued was described by Swart and Gait as a “weird” season. Syracuse posted its first losing record in program history. Multiple leads were blown in the waning minutes of games. But one of the only positives from the season was Swart’s play. She scored in all but two of SU’s 19 games, but shuffled in and out of the starting lineup. In the Orange’s lone NCAA Tournament game, Swart started and scored when SU was down 9-3, sparking a run of eight goals in 30 minutes to give it the lead.A game prior, Syracuse, a team that hadn’t won its first conference game until April 22, played the first round of the ACC Tournament against North Carolina. The Tar Heels scored seven of the first eight goals and dominated SU thoroughly. Swart was held without a goal and turned the ball over four times in the 21-12 loss.After years of bouncing from sport-to-sport, practice-to-practice and game-to-game, Maryann remembered the then-freshman dart to the busing area in her Syracuse uniform after the game. Gait was right behind Swart, waiting to comfort her. It was one of the first times Maryann had seen her daughter cry after a game.Despite the disappointing season, it was the first time in Swart’s life that she was fully dedicated to lacrosse.“I wasn’t expecting everything I have now,” Swart said. “It’s really a gift from God.”The possibility of playing other sports still lingers in her mind. Swart recently brought her field hockey stick back up to college, Maryann said. She also entertains the idea of playing a graduate year for Bradley, throwing out “maybe” after every claim.But for now, the sophomore just wants a bigger ring. Photos by Max Freund | Staff Photographer,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.last_img read more

Three reasons why Celtics are real threat to Bucks, 76ers in Eastern Conference race

first_imgWith an 18-7 record, Boston sits right behind Milwaukee in the East standings. While there are some concerns — namely the weakness of the frontcourt with Horford gone — the Celtics are back to playing Brad Stevens basketball.How have the Celtics gone from second-round flameout to legitimate threat in the East so quickly? There are a few reasons for their quick turnaround.The Celtics changed the culture.It sounds ridiculous to say about a 49-win team, but last year’s group was a disaster. Boston was coming off a 2018 Eastern Conference finals series in which the Celtics took LeBron James and the Cavs to seven games. Jayson Tatum looked primed for an All-Star season, and Irving and Gordon Hayward were returning from injuries. The skill level was perhaps the closest thing to the mighty Warriors, but the chemistry was terrible.What a difference a year makes.Kemba Walker may not posses Irving’s raw talent, but his fit in the locker room is a massive improvement. The grumblings about minutes and shot selection are no more. Coaches and teammates aren’t forced to walk on eggshells and wonder if their point guard will randomly ask about the meaning of government before a film session. The joy is back.Walker, Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart playing together over the summer for Team USA helped kickstart that chemistry, and it’s translated over to the regular season.”It feels good, just to build our camaraderie right now early on, before the season even starts,” Smart told Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston back in August. “So when we do finally get on the court, when it’s time to strap it on for the season, we kind of already got a hint of what everybody wants to do and a feel for everybody.”The Celtics are happier this time around, and it’s showing in the win column.Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are back on track.After struggling with their roles for much of last season, Brown and Tatum have regained their swagger.Tatum received the message on his shot selection and cut out the contested, Kobe Bryant-like midrangers. He’s taking 7.0 3-pointers per game (up from 3.9) while also attempting 4.0 free throws per game (up from 2.9), resulting in a notable increase in points (15.7 to 20.8).Brown seems to be the player that has most benefited from a stable workplace. He’s on pace to average career highs in points (19.6), rebounds (7.0) and assists (2.1). Brown has recaptured his outside shot (49.7 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from 3-point range) while playing solid defense on the wing.The development of Brown and Tatum is important not only as it pertains to the current season, but also the future success of the franchise. They are taking huge strides in the right direction.Gordon Hayward could be a gamechanger.When fully healthy, Hayward is an All-Star, capable of operating on or off ball offensively and switching across multiple positions defensively. Before missing one month with a broken hand, Hayward was averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting a blazing 55.5 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from beyond the arc.The Celtics’ most dynamic five-man unit — Walker, Smart, Hayward, Brown and Tatum — has been limited by injuries this season. What happens when Stevens can unleash that group all at once with ballhandlers and defenders at every position? Following a year of turmoil, the Celtics entered the 2019-20 season with lowered expectations. In an Eastern Conference with the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a 76ers team with a championship-or-bust mentality, Boston was no longer considered a contender.But the Celtics haven’t taken a step back after losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford this past offseason. In fact, they’re on pace to be better without them, and the Bucks and Sixers should realize this isn’t a two-horse race. Boston still has a long way to go. The Celtics’ lack of size is glaring, particularly when it comes to one-on-one matchups with Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid — Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams aren’t going to scare anyone. Team president Danny Ainge will be scouring the trade market for a big man ahead of the Feb. 6 deadline.Despite that gap in the paint, the Celtics are firmly in the mix. That wasn’t the case when preseason predictions were made.Don’t plan those late May trips to Milwaukee and Philly just yet. The East has another horse in the race.last_img read more