Paige Gunning’s dominance in goal leads Vanderbilt to victory
After losing the second half of her freshman season, Gunning has made the most of her sophomore year.
April 14, 2021
Born and raised in Maryland—a hub for the sport of lacrosse—Paige Gunning has anchored the defense all season long and recorded 124 total saves thus far, good for a 0.492 save percentage.
Gunning began her lacrosse career on the opposite side of the field as an attacker when she was six years old before switching to goalie at age 12 because she was “not good” in the field.
“I started playing lacrosse because it’s huge in Maryland,” Gunning tells the Hustler. “I also got into it because of my older brothers.”
Her father John Gunning first took notice of her talent when she switched from playing in the field to the goalie position.
“Well, she started off playing when she was about six or seven,” he said. “She started to excel when she was around 11 or 12… it was then when I thought she might have something special.”
Once Gunning started to play in the crease, it wasn’t long until she gained local and national attention.
High-caliber academics and close proximity to Nashville were her reasons for choosing Vanderbilt, Gunning said.
Despite early success in high school as an underclassmen, it was Gunning’s junior year that she truly showed her dominance and asserted herself as a player prepared to take her skills to the collegiate level.
During the spring of 2018, she was named First-Team All-Conference by the InterScholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM) and First-Team All-Metro by the Baltimore Sun. In addition, over the course of a week in mid-March that season, she led her team to three consecutive victories and stopped 30 combined shots. Her success led her to being named Athlete of the Week by the Capital Gazette.
Entering her senior year in 2019, Gunning was well-known around the area for her tremendous set of skills. At the start of the season, she was listed as one of the top-15 girls lacrosse players to watch in the Baltimore area. After the season concluded, she had once again been named First-Team All-Conference and First-Team All Metro, and she added First-Team All-County to her decorated list of achievements as well.
With all of Gunning’s success in high school, her parents were thrilled for her to have the opportunity to compete at Vanderbilt, making the cancellation of last year’s season even more difficult.
“Right before the coronavirus hit and the season was cancelled, the team was doing well,” John Gunning says. “They had had some tough games, but they were against solid teams, and it seemed like they were about to turn in the right direction.”
The Commodores finished the shortened season with a 4-5 record, with four of their five losses coming against ranked opponents. Despite only being a freshman, Paige started all nine games, finishing with 68 total saves and a 0.374 save percentage. Her average of 7.56 saves per game was good for second in the conference.
Although disappointed about last season’s cancellation, John Gunning says he’s excited for the rest of this season.
“It’s been great to see her excel so far,” he says. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Excel may be an understatement. Gunning has led the nation in saves this spring, guiding the Commodores to an 11-2 record, with their only losses coming to the undefeated, top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels and the then-second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In Vanderbilt’s most recent game—a 19-2 victory over Old Dominion on April 3—she set the school record for the fewest goals allowed against a conference opponent.
Gunning’s fantastic play and leadership skills have not gone unnoticed, as she has twice been named AAC Defensive Player of the Week (Feb. 22 and April 5).
However, despite Gunning’s tremendous success thus far, she doesn’t take all the credit.
“It was super exciting being named conference player of the week,” she says. “But if it were up to me, the whole defense should get the award.”
For Gunning, it hasn’t been about the awards or the wins thus far. After losing the second half of her freshman season and dealing with the uncertainty of COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as restrictive gathering protocols, she instead has focused on appreciating every chance she gets to step on the field with her team.
“It was weird being split up at the beginning of the year in two separate groups, but I’m very grateful to be able to play this year,” she says. “I don’t take anything for granted knowing other schools have had their programs cancelled this year and that it could happen at any time.
Although the Commodores do not face their next opponent, the Florida Gators, until April 16, it seems as though Gunning and the rest of the team will get the chance they deserve to finish out their season in flying colors.