Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Gajic’s competitiveness yields points on lacrosse field

Ilija Gajic has scars from his childhood. Actual physical scars. No, he’s not a victim of child abuse, at least not in the normal sense.

“I have three older brothers and we all liked sports and we were very competitive, extremely competitive,” says Gajic, a 6-foot sophomore midfielder for the Pioneers men’s lacrosse team. “And we used to mix it up quite a bit. It got ugly sometimes. Fighting over sports and trying to win was just normal in our family.”

That competitive nature has paid off on the field.

Last year Gajic, a junior communication major from Burnaby, British Columbia, played in all 16 games and recorded 24 goals and nine assists for 33 points, second most on the team. And that 24-goal season is the second highest goal production by a freshman in DU history.

What’s more, he recorded a game-winning goal against Penn State and tallied at least one goal in 13 games, plus he had two three-goal games and recorded a season high two assists against Air Force. He ended up sixth in the Great Western Lacrosse League in shots per game (5.69).

It’s no big surprise for those who knew him before he came to DU. He played on not one, but two national championship teams in Canada. And he was British Columbia’s most valuable player three times.

Jamie Munro, head coach for men’s lacrosse, says what makes Gajic special is his “sheer will” to win.

“He has all of the physical characteristics of great players — skill, explosiveness, field sense and power — but there’s an aura that surrounds him that allows him to make the big play at the right time,” Munro says. “I always have faith he’ll step up when we need him to.”

Stepping up runs in the family. His older brother, Nenad, is a standout on a Denver pro lacrosse team, the Mammoth. And his dad played pro soccer in Europe.

Family, it turns out, is where Gajic lays the credit for his success and where that competitive seed was sown.

“I was about four when I first played lacrosse, but we all played that and hockey and basketball — we just all loved sports,” he says. “I’d watch my older brothers play and see how good they were and it made me want to be good, too.”

And he was good, in both sports.

“I was kind of a puck hog when I played hockey and the coaches were always on me for that. I guess I was just more successful in lacrosse at a younger age. Lacrosse ended up being more fun, and I relaxed and just went with it. It wasn’t as stressful for me.”

He adds that lacrosse has taught him about teamwork. “You work with and talk to your team the same way you do your family,” he says. “And we learn how to be on the same page to be successful.”

As for all those numbers he’s already racked up on the field, they don’t mean much.

“I don’t care about personal records. We have a lot of good players who can score goals; I just want to win,” he says. “I want to win a national championship. Our team is underestimated. I’m amazed at the skill level of our players. We’ll be at the top.”

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