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May 25, 2015

Denver’s Bill Tierney affirms his coaching legacy with another NCAA national title

Philadelphia received a special visit over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Denver’s Bill Tierney, the John Wooden of men’s collegiate lacrosse occupied Lincoln Financial Field and elevated the Pioneers’ program to national prominence. Before 2010, before Tierney arrived, any mention of Denver lacrosse may have had those who follow the sport scratching their heads and wondering who, what?

Now the Pioneers are national champions, thanks to a 10-5 victory over Maryland before 24,215 at the Linc, and thanks to Tierney, the former Princeton coach whose renown attracted elite players to the picturesque Rocky Mountain campus and made the Pioneers the best in the country. It was Denver’s first NCAA men’s’ Division I national lacrosse championship, after advancing to four of the last five Final Fours.

The national title was an unprecedented seventh personally for Tierney, who won six national championships at Princeton. He became the first coach in NCAA men’s’ Division I lacrosse history to win NCAA Division I national championships at two different schools. 

In lacrosse parlance, Tierney is in that rarified Wooden air. The Denver nickname is the Pioneers, and they are in a sense, as the western-most school to ever win a Division I men’s lacrosse title. The victory helps steer growing attention to Denver, and to states that are growing lacrosse like California and Washington. It’s no longer a Northeastern-based sport — and that growth spurt is a credit to Tierney’s success at Denver.

But Tierney didn’t want to hear about Wooden comparisons. To him, it’s just about providing a strong program for the players that attend Denver, now on the national map. Just moments before, Tierney’s players were calling him the greatest lacrosse coach of all-time, and he’s definitely on that pantheon.

“I feel blessed to be in this situation,” Tierney said. “I just don’t feel like I’m in Wooden territory. I just don’t feel like that. But I do feel very complimented to even be mentioned with such a great coach as him. Why me, I ask? I don’t think about my legacy. My guys just won a national championship, so they’ll say anything nice about me. Two weeks ago, when I was ripping them a new butthole, they wouldn’t have said that. I’m truly thankful for the way my players feel, and the way people feel about me, but honestly, I don’t think that way about myself.”

Local product Matt Rambo, Maryland’s sophomore leading scorer out of La Salle, was held to two goals on 2-for-8 shooting, after scoring a game-high four goals to lead the Terrapins to a 12-11 victory over Johns Hopkins in Saturday’s semifinal, including the game-winning goal. Rambo earned a place on the all-tournament team. 

But the day belonged to Denver, which led from start to finish.

The Pioneers got out to a 3-0 start and were threatened just once, on a Bryan Cole goal with 3:46 left in the half, which put Maryland within 5-3. Denver began the second half scoring three unanswered goals and secured the game.

“It’s a quick turnaround to the finals (from Saturday’s semifinals), and you can change the poles and sliding patterns (on defense), but (Denver) did everything that we pretty much expected,” Maryland coach John Tillman said.

“Denver executed really well and we had a tough time getting leverage. We got stagnant off the ball on offense and not cutting to the pipes, or moving inside as much as we could have. That much said, we had some looks and we just got stubborn a little bit with our shooting. I have to give credit to (Denver goalie) Ryan LaPlante, he played great. He was good (on the high shots), so we spoke about changing our levels. It’s easier said than done sometimes because you get the ball and rely on your instincts.”