A Yalie has stunned the lacrosse world as a rising star in the major leagues.
At the start of this year’s Major League Lacrosse Season, InsideLacrosse.com published its predictions for the 2012 Rookie of the Year award. Rob Pannell, the 2010 and 2011 National Attackman of the Year from Cornell, topped the list, followed by two-time All-Americans Steele Stanwick, Mark Matthews and CJ Costabile.
But by midseason, each of these four had fallen off the map and only one name remained on the website’s revised list — Matt Gibson ’12 of the Long Island Lizards.
Gibson, the only Eli currently playing professional men’s lacrosse, went on to lead all rookies with 33 points his first season and walked away with the Rookie of the Year award that Inside Lacrosse predicted for him with seven weeks left in the season. It was the first time a Yale graduate earned the award.
“It’s definitely a big honor, but I wouldn’t have been too upset not to get it,” Gibson said. “There are a lot of other great rookies in the league and mostly it just gives me a bit of confidence going forward.”
The former Yale attacker took the league by storm with a goal and four assists in his first professional game and earned Rookie of the Week honors for his debut performance. At the halfway point of the season Gibson far surpassed all other rookies with 10 goals and 10 assists and was the only first-year player to be named to the 2012 MLL All-Star team.
Gibson said that the biggest adjustment for him was not the speed or talent of professional players, but rather the different role he walked into on the Lizards.
“In college I was the go-to guy and a lot of our offensive success hinged on me,” Gibson said. “On the Lizards I had to take a back seat and learn how to fit into a new role. Fortunately, they weren’t asking me to do anything very different than what I did in college … The only difference was the number of touches I was getting.”
While Gibson’s emergence as an MLL star may have shocked many in the lacrosse world, it came as no surprise to his teammates and his coach. Both midfielder Dylan Levings ’14 and head coach Andy Shay noted that Gibson played at a high level his senior year, and the jump to the pros was well within his reach.
“People didn’t realize how good Matt was last year,” Levings said. “We may not have expected [Gibson’s Rookie of the Year season] but we certainly weren’t surprised.”
Shay added that Gibson scored multiple points on three of the top six defensemen in the country and was the catalyst for the entire Bulldog offense last season.
During his senior year, Gibson scored 61 points, earned first-team All-Ivy honors and finished eighth in Division I with 2.06 assists per game. He led the Bulldogs to a No. 12 national ranking and the team’s first NCAA berth since 1992.
The Elis qualified for the NCAA tournament with two upset wins over then-No. 13 Cornell and then-No. 9 Princeton. Gibson had 14 points in those games and set an Ivy League Tournament record with 8 assists in the Bulldogs’ 14–10 dismantling of the Big Red in the semifinals.
Gibson said his triumphs at Yale are the ones he cherishes most.
“[Winning the Ivy League Tournament] was the greatest thing I’ve done in my career thus far,” Gibson said. “My first year we won one Ivy League game. Our goal over the past few years was transforming the program and turning things around. A couple years ago we got close — we made the tournament and were ranked — and this year we finally did it.”
Despite this outstanding performance at the tail end of his college career, Gibson was left off the 2012 All-American list, a move Shay called “an absolute disgrace.”
Gibson recorded 36 points his junior season and received Honorable Mention All-American honors, yet his 61 points were insufficient to earn him the same award his senior season. Gibson outscored seven out of the 11 2012 Honorable Mentions and four out of the seven second and third-team All-Americans.
After an entire season of professional play and his Rookie of the Year award, Gibson said he was no longer frustrated about his apparent slight by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association.
“It’s nice to get some recognition finally, and a lot of people agree that it was strange [being left off the All-American list],” Gibson said. “But I’m a lot happier to have had the senior season that I did.”