May 2, 2010

Tierney's Boys Rout Loyola, Ready to Dance

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Game Blog

DENVER -- In the first sign of realizing great expectations, Bill Tierney’s 16th-ranked University of Denver men's lacrosse team clinched the ECAC's automatic NCAA tournament berth Sunday with a 12-4 rout of sixth-ranked Loyola at Invesco Field.

The Pioneers dominated all phases of the game, using a patient offense to create high-percentage shots, converting both man-up opportunities and relying on the quick reflexes of goaltender Peter Lowell in a 15-save effort that Tierney proclaimed as his best ever.

It was the eighth consecutive victory for Denver (11-4, 6-0) following a 3-4 start that included a 15-9 season-opening loss at Syracuse. The Pioneers must defeat Air Force on May 8 to claim the outright championship of the ECAC, but the third NCAA tournament appearance in school history is set.

“It’s awesome," said sophomore attackman Mark Matthews. “It is something I dreamed of and something I’ve been watching since I was a little kid. We’re showing this side of America what we’re made of."

That was the expectation of Tierney when he replaced Jamie Munro last summer. In a surprising move, Tierney pulled up stakes after 22 years and six NCAA championships at Princeton and moved west. The opportunity to be close to his son, Trevor, was part of it. The desire to retire with his wife, Helen, in a beautiful part of the country also factored in.

But Tierney’s  main goals were two-fold: make Denver a national contender and transform the sport in the western part of the United States.

Lacrosse Magazine’s trust in Tierney was evident: he was named the 2009 Person of the Year.

After the lopsided victory, he spoke of the expectations placed on his players by the attention the move received and their willingness to put aside the hype and buy into the coaching philosophy.

Two aspects were critical Sunday: a fast start and a patient offense.

Tierney put 15 minutes on the clock at practice each day leading up to the game, simulating the mental and physical readiness required to hit on all cylinders from the opening face off.

“It was absolutely about preparation," said Lowell. “We’ve had some slow starts, so this was all about coach teaching us to execute right away and getting us to believe. We were flying out there."

Indeed, Denver led 3-0, absorbed a Loyola surge that cut the lead to 3-2, took a 5-2 edge into halftime and repeated the great start by outscoring the Greyhounds 5-1 in the third quarter.  

The patient offense was also a work in progress.

“I have been teaching that we can be patient on offense and still score a lot of goals," Tierney said.

The 12 goals were one more than the Pioneers' season average and featured a first-half hat trick by Patrick Rogers, a sophomore midfielder from Portland, Ore. Rogers’ individual skills were too much for the Greyhounds, including one goal he scored by driving around the defender and another by getting loose with a spin move.

“We were running some sets that were creating open shots for everybody," Rogers said modestly.

Season scoring leader Alex Demopoulos, a sophomore attackman from Canton, Conn., got into the act in the second half with a hat trick that increased his season goal total to 32.

Matthews, a 6-foot-4 sophomore attack from Oshawa, Ontario, scored two goals and made two assists.

Loyola (9-3, 6-1) saw the end of a six-game win streak and took a hit in the defensive statistical ranks after entering the game as the NCAA’s No. 1-ranked defense. The Greyhounds, who would appear to have done enough to date to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, host a desparate Johns Hopkins team on Saturday with the ability to further fortify that standing.

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