2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 12 Denver (Men)

PHOTO BY JEFFREY A. CAMARATI / UNC ATHLETICS

Jack Hannah “is the most competitive young man I’ve coached in 41 years of college coaching,” Bill Tierney said.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 12 DENVER

2021 Record: 12-5 (9-1 Big East)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 9
Coach: Bill Tierney (13th year)

When Bill Tierney first arrived at Denver in 2009, the recruiting blueprint he developed with coach-in-waiting Matt Brown revolved around the three C’s.

Colorado, California and Canada.

And while that strategy remains in place — it has yielded 10 NCAA tournament appearances, five trips championship weekend and a national title in 2015, as well as 30 of the 58 players on the current roster — Tierney acknowledged that California kids have played harder to get in recent years.

“Now it’s C, C and E,” Tierney said. “Colorado, Canada and everywhere else.”

Look no further than the first midfield line the Pioneers will trot out Feb. 5 when they open the 2022 season at Utah. There’s Jack Hannah, of course, a two-time All-American and national midfielder of the year candidate from Milford, Ohio. Then there’s Ted Sullivan, a Tucson, Arizona native who came to Denver by way of Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Alex Simmons, meanwhile, gives the unit its resident Canadian — a slick-sticked scorer who also plays attack when the matchup and momentum favor the Pioneers.

“We’re confident we have one of the best midfields in the country,” Tierney said. “Those three put a lot of pressure on another team to double- or triple-pole us.”

Though Hannah (37 goals on a team-high 142 shots) profiles as the alpha of the group, Simmons was the one who carried Denver during a torrid midseason stretch.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

“He won the Marquette game for us,” Tierney said of Simmons’ four-goal performance in a 10-9 win after he missed the Pioneers’ first three games. “Shooting lights out.”

The Pioneers’ top returning scorer, Simmons (31 goals, 24 assists) ranked 10th nationally in Lacrosse Reference’s estimated goals added index — a formula used to aggregate every contribution (positive or negative) that shows up in the box score play-by-play. His EGA of 2.37 was one one-hundredth of a point better than North Carolina’s Chris Gray, the USA Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Player of the Year.

Yet the enduring image of the offseason for Denver fans was that of Simmons kneeling on the turf at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, his hands gripping the back of his helmet and pushing it face first into the turf after Loyola goalie Sam Shafer denied his game-tying attempt on the doorstep before time expired in a 14-13 NCAA tournament loss.

“There’s no game that comes down to that one play,” Tierney said, absorbing the blame for not taking a timeout on the Pioneers’ previous possession that resulted in an errant Lucas Cotler shot with no backup. “It’s hard for people on the outside not to look at that [finish], but we have all the confidence in the world in Alex. He’s tougher on himself than anybody else.”

Simmons bounced back in a big way over the summer, overcoming a slow start to the lead St. Catherines to the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League championship as the OJLL MVP. He also competed at the senior level in the Major Series Lacrosse Classic with the Cobourg Kodiacs.

That’s the beauty of box. There’s always another game.

And while Denver certainly has benefitted from talent discovered north of the border, it remains committed to the homegrown approach. Sixteen Colorado natives are on the roster, including a boomerang recruit in Richmond transfer Richie Connell, who grew up playing for Denver Elite. As did Rutgers transfer Zach Groff, one of five reserve goalies vying for spots behind incumbent starter Jack Thompson, also of Denver Elite lineage.

The force is strong in the first C.







TOP RETURNERS

Jack Hannah, M, Gr.

Not one for hyperbole, Tierney allows an exception for Hannah. “Jack Hannah is the most competitive young man I’ve coached in 41 years of college coaching,” he said. The first-team All-American midfielder will have the ball in his stick more frequently given the departures of Jackson Morrill and Ethan Walker. He had 37 goals and 10 assists last year. Both figures could swell this year and very much put Hannah in the Tewaaraton conversation.

Alex Simmons, M, Sr.

Tierney is tempted to put Simmons back on attack, where he put up some big numbers last year. But he’s equally as tantalized by the midfield lineup noted above. Here’s guessing Denver will deploy Simmons at both positions the way they did Walker, the difference being Simmons’ time will tilt toward midfield whereas Walker only occasionally came out of the box. Either way, look for Simmons to be doubly determined to put farther in the rearview mirror the memory of those final seconds in the NCAA tournament.

Alec Stathakis, FO, So.

Many expected the midseason arrival of TD Ierlan to come at Stathakis’ expense. But the Pioneers platooned the faceoff position, and there were some games in which Stathakis, a first-team All-Big East selection, was the 1A and Ierlan the 1B. Brett Boos is still around, but expect Stathakis to get the lion’s share of work this year. The U.S. U21 team standout was 191-for-301 (63.5 percent) in his first complete collegiate season and now has had full year to train in the standing-neutral grip approach.

KEY ADDITION

Caleb Kueber, A, Gr.

Denver’s addition of Connell got a lot of attention because of his size (6-5, 205), booming shot (35 goals, including 10-man up tallies) and three years of eligibility remaining. But don’t sleep on Kueber. He was a first-team Division II All-American at Mercyhurst who could score (56 goals) and feed (32 assists) as the centerpiece of the Lakers’ offense. Imagine what the British Columbia native will do under Brown’s tutelage.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Drew Erickson, A, Sr.

With Jackson Morrill and Ethan Walker gone and Simmons likely playing more midfield, Denver will have an entirely new attack unit than the one it deployed in the NCAA tournament. As a lefty sniper, Erickson, who was a top-40 recruit out of Danville, California, has mostly played on the man-up and second midfield units. Now he’ll slot in for Walker on that side of the attack. Erickson has box lacrosse experience, too, having starred for the USBOXLA U18 national team.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Pioneers:

“Tierney is the best, and he proves it every year despite having to overcome the distance and recruiting disadvantages presented to him. … Another dangerous cocktail mix of Canadian offensive weapons and stellar FO play.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

25.6%

The one-year experiment of pairing Jack Hannah with Jackson Morrill was, at best, a mixed success for Denver. In 2020, pre-Morrill, Hannah generated 25.6 percent of the team’s assists and had a 1.92 uaEGA rating (player efficiency). In 2021, with Morrill taking on the distributor role, Hannah had just 6.8 percent of the team’s assists and a 1.77 uaEGA. Look for Hannah to take back some of that initiator role this year.  — Zack Capozzi

Lacrosse Reference Glossary

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