Athlete of the Week: Gerber leaves ice for greener sport

cflax-gerberJust as winter turns to spring in three short months, Carolina Forest lacrosse standout Phil Gerber made the transition from the ice to grass in three short years.

The former hockey player officially switched sticks and sports as a sophomore, and he graduates as one of the state’s leaders in various statistical categories. More important was the senior captain’s leadership in the Panthers’ first-ever SCHSL playoff berth.

After relocating to the Grand Strand from New Jersey in the third grade, Gerber played roller hockey at Market Common and ice hockey in Wilmington (NC) before taking a swing at lacrosse. What started out as an experiment gone wrong quickly became Gerber’s new-found sports passion.

“I loved playing hockey. It must have been in my blood, but the travel made it tough,” said Gerber, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week. “My freshman year the lacrosse team’s goalie was sick and they asked me to try it since I had a hockey background. I tried it in practice and I didn’t do so well. I wasn’t a goalie but I did like the sport. That’s how it all started.”

Although Gerber’s hockey background didn’t translate well between the pipes, his stick skills came in handy as he made the transition to midfielder, where he ranked sixth in the state in face-off percentage and eighth in the state in groundballs. He also was one of the Coastal League’s leaders in assists, making him a much-needed work horse on a talent-rich team.

“The transition came pretty easy for me. I played summer league for the Swamp Foxes and a lot of my teammates helped me learn the game,” Gerber said. “I really like winning face-offs and groundballs. You’re not the one scoring a lot of goals but you do get to win the ball and get it to the scorers. I take pride in doing the things that help my team win.”

That task was made more difficult by a tough schedule designed to improve Carolina Forest’s playoff resume. After being overlooked for the postseason last year, the Panthers beefed up their schedule to include state powers Academic Magnet, Blythewood and River Bluff. Going 11-1 netted them a postseason bid before falling in the first round last week.

Gerber leaves the program with a lot of momentum, and he is happy to see the foundation has been laid at Carolina Forest for future teams to build upon. His experiment in lacrosse also opened a new door for Gerber, who will play at the next level at Greensboro (NC) College in the fall on an academic scholarship. Not bad for a converted hockey player.

“Even though I wasn’t one of the guys who helped start the (Carolina Forest) program, it feels awesome that I was able to help take it to the next level,” Gerber said. “We’ve got a lot of younger guys coming up to build on what we’ve started. I hope they can keep it going.”

Photo by John Daly

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