Tierney, Denver Can Still Make Noise in ECAC
by Steven Russolillo | Special to Lacrosse Magazine
Bill Tierney’s inaugural season at Denver didn’t exactly begin the way he would’ve liked. But the Pioneers' recent two-game winning streak has stoked optimism as they kick off conference play this weekend.
Denver (5-4) had a rocky start to the season, losing three of its first four games, including a triple-overtime loss at Jacksonville and an 11-7 home loss against Penn. But the Pioneers have recovered to win four of their last six, with the most impressive victory, to this point, coming on March 20 when Denver marched onto Long Island and defeated No. 20 Stony Brook, 13-12.
In their most recent game, the Pioneers built comfortable leads of 6-1 and 9-4 before defeating Air Force 9-6 on Saturday. Now, Tierney hopes the recent momentum can carry over into the conference portion of the schedule, beginning Saturday against Hobart.
“We certainly can contend for the league title,” Tierney said in Denver's weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve proven that we can play with teams that are as good as anyone in our league. And we’ve proven that we can lose to anyone in the country. It’s just a matter of our mindset.”
Tierney’s confidence shouldn’t be taken lightly -- the man knows a thing or two about winning. This is his first season at the helm for Denver, but by no stretch of the imagination is he a rookie to the college lacrosse coaching scene. He spent the previous 22 years leading Princeton, accumulating six NCAA titles, 10 final four appearances and 14 Ivy League championships before being named Denver head coach last June.
Instilling the confidence that the Pioneers could beat anybody going forward is crucial, especially since they have there are aspects of their game that need improvement. Denver hasn’t been able to find a successful formula at faceoff this season, winning just 44 percent of its faceoffs through the first nine games. Freshman Chase Carraro’s struggles were magnified against Air Force, when he won just three of 13 faceoffs.
“Very concerned about it,” Tierney said.
There are also concerns on offense. Sophomore attackmen Alex Demopoulos and Mark Matthews are the offensive leaders, leading the Pioneers with 25 and 17 points, respectively. But both have aspects of their games that Tierney wants to see improve.
“Mark can do it all, but he hasn’t up until this point,” Tierney said. “If he catches the ball, it’s going in the goal -- we just gotta get him to work on his concentration and catching the ball. Once it’s in his stick, he’s really as dangerous as anyone out there… Alex is very unselfish, we’re still working with him to get him to realize how dominant he could be.”
Looking forward, Denver, which previously played in the GWLL, will kick off its inaugural season in the ECAC on Saturday when it hosts Hobart. The Statesmen have been a bit of an enigma this season. They went toe to toe with rival Syracuse on March 23 before falling 9-8 in overtime. But they looked physically and emotionally drained last Saturday when they got trounced by Fairfield 14-5.
Following Hobart, the Pioneers will host Bellarmine and Quinnipiac on April 9 and 11, play at Ohio State and then battle Loyola and Fairfield, who are “two teams taking a step above everybody else in the ECAC,” Tierney said. But with matchups against the ECAC elite still weeks away, Tierney said all he’s focused on is Saturday’s showdown against Hobart.
“We’re not good enough to think about anyone other than Hobart,” he said.
Loyola goalkeeper Jake Hagelin made a season-high 15 saves on Saturday, leading No. 12 Greyhounds (5-2, 3-0) to a 7-6 victory against Towson. They return to action this Saturday, hosting Ohio State (5-4, 1-1), which is coming off a 10-8 victory at Quinnipiac. Freshman Logan Schuss led the Buckeyes with two goals and four assists, helping them overcome a four-goal, third-quarter deficit to beat the Bobcats (4-2, 1-2). They will play at Hartford on Saturday... Fairfield (5-2, 2-0), which is riding a four-game winning streak, destroyed Hobart last weekend 14-5. The Stags held the Statesmen scoreless in the first half and built a 9-0 third-quarter lead before Hobart (2-5, 0-2) finally got on the board. The Statesmen will play at Denver on Saturday with their backs against the wall, trying to avoid a third conference loss... Bellarmine (6-3, 0-1), which has won three straight games, including its most recent 17-12 victory against Presbyterian, will host Fairfield on Saturday in the first of six straight conference games to close out the regular season... Air Force (1-6, 0-1) will look to get back to its winning ways when it travels to Robert Morris for a Saturday showdown. The Falcons, who have lost three straight, stayed competitive against Denver last weekend before losing 9-6. Following this weekend’s road game, Air Force will host three straight games, all against ECAC opponents.
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