ESPN Ithaca held its seventh annual Night of Champions ceremony on Sunday, June 14, virtually. Several Tompkins County athletes and coaches were recognized, but none bigger than Lansing senior Gwen Gisler (Geese-ler), who was named the Girls Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
To qualify for the award, the athlete must be a senior, participate in at least two sports and have a grade point average of at least 85 with no disciplinary issues. For Gisler, she excelled in both soccer and track and field for the Bobcats.
In soccer, Gisler was a team captain and named to the all-state second team after tallying 11 goals from both midfield and defense. She continued that success in the winter, winning the Section IV championship in pole vault and later placing third at states in the event.
It was a unique year for Gisler on the soccer pitch, playing in two separate positions and accepting a leadership role as one of just two seniors on the team.
“I was used to [defense] and the leadership, commanding position that gave me, just seeing the entire field in front of me,” Gisler said. “But then, when I was pushed on to midfield, it was jarring because I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing. I was just running back and forth, which is what I thought you’re supposed to do. But I did need a break sometimes.”
All of her running back and forth paid off, as she was named an IAC First Team All-Star and later was recognized on the all-state second team.
“It was really nice,” Gisler said. “I didn’t know about [all-state]. At first, I only heard about IAC. I was like, ‘that’s awesome’ because I was thinking about the trip that they go on. I didn’t go on it, but to be named all-state was pretty exciting.”
While her best memory from the last year was a deep goal she scored against Trumansburg in soccer, Gisler truly left her mark on Lansing as a part of a pole vault dynasty that has produced several state champions over the past few years. Gisler’s state championship came last year during the outdoor season (which was canceled this year due to COVID-19).
Like other great pole vaulters in the area, she credits her success to Ithaca College and Lansing High School pole vault coach Matt Scheffler.
“I definitely attribute all of my success to [coach Scheffler] because in our area, he’s one of the few pole-vault-focused coaches that we have,” Gisler said. “It was really nice to have him because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t probably have been ever able to do pole vault. Seeing that it’s not the safest sport, I don’t think my mother would have allowed it. He’s so skilled in the area of pole vault and knows what he’s doing because he himself was an athlete.”
Pole vaulting is not an easy sport to pick up, and fear is a part of that. Choosing to fall from over 10 feet for sport is not common, and Gisler recalled the first time she tried it.
“For me, the first time I believe I wasn’t as afraid, seeing that I was on a tiny stick and I was about two steps away from the pit, so there wasn’t much danger in it,” Gisler said. “As I progressed in the sport, getting farther away from the pit on bigger poles, it gets a little more nerve wracking. After seeing other people break poles, or things like that happen, you get a little nervous about the entire sport.”
She added that coach Scheffler helped her through those fears and listed other mentors she’s had along the way on her athletic journey. Those include Lansing head coach Becca Lovenheim, three-time Ithaca College national champion pole vaulter Kat Pitman and senior teammates Catalina Zaloj and Catie Eisenhut.
Beyond the teams Gisler has been a part of at Lansing, the Bobcats have seen success in so many different sports over the years. She discussed why that is.
“Our team dynamics, at least I know for girls and boys track and field, the team dynamic is definitely empower your teammate and don’t think of them as a competitor,” Gisler said. “They are to build you up when you succeed and tell you it’s OK if you do not do as well as you were hoping.”
The next step for Gisler will be to follow her former pole vaulting Lansing teammate and fellow state champion Meghan Matheny to Ithaca College to continue learning under coach Scheffler, but she also has plans beyond that.
“I’m hoping to study environmental science and possibly marine biology with that if I’m able to ever transfer in the future or possibly take a course or two at Cornell,” Gisler said. “I just want to do a little help for the planet.”
The honor of Scholar-Athlete of the Year is a great way to cap off a year that was cut short for Gisler. For her efforts throughout her illustrious career in high school athletics, she has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship courtesy of Visions Federal Credit Union.