Despite New Identity, Tierney Looking for Same Consistency at Denver

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Ethan Walker is just the second player in Denver program history to record multiple 70-point seasons (Wes Berg).


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

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No. 9 Denver

2018 Record: 13-4 (5-0 Big East)
Coach: Bill Tierney (10th season at Denver)
All-Time Record: 418-285-2
NCAA Appearances: 11
Final Fours: 5
Championships: 1 (2015)

This coming spring marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most riveting, startling and unquestionably successful decisions in college lacrosse history.

Bill Tierney left Princeton for Denver and immediately transformed the Pioneers from a rocky mountain afterthought to one of the sport’s most intriguing teams.

As his run in Colorado nears a decade in length, perhaps the most impressive part of Tierney’s work with the Pioneers is its metronomic consistency. Well, that and the national title trophy from 2015.

“The last thing I wanted our program to be was a one-hit wonder,” Tierney said. “In those nine seasons, we’ve been in five final fours. We’ve been consistent.”

Expect the same this year from Denver, which was bounced in the NCAA quarterfinals by Albany in 2018. The program is constructed to keep cranking out strong seasons even as graduation hits take their toll.

Denver will have to adapt to life without faceoff ace Trevor Baptiste. His absence, combined with the addition of the shot clock, means the Pioneers will probably have a different look stylistically than last year.

A coach doesn’t win national titles in three different decades like Tierney has without the ability to adapt. Nor does it happen without good players.

Denver will field a potent attack led by Austin French and Ethan Walker. It has a 22-goal scorer back in the midfield in Colton Jackson and should get a boost from Danny Logan, who spent much of last year as a defensive midfielder but figures to be a two-way guy this spring. Its defense and goalie are tested. Some slip-ups in the Big East tournament aside, it has been the league’s best team since it joined the conference.

That should continue. Denver will be a top-10 team. It will be part of the postseason discussion. It will produce some All-Americans and be a reliable presence. And, in all likelihood, it will be a contender for another national championship.

That’s consistency, in precisely the way Tierney likes it.

“We just want to be what we always are,” Tierney said. “We want to be the team everyone forgets, which is fine.”







The Case For Denver

Tierney is excited about the Pioneers’ depth throughout the attack and midfield, but he probably has more answers at the defensive end than any other.

Goalie Alex Ready is back. The addition of Maryland transfer Matt Neufeldt solidifies the long pole position after Sean Mayle’s graduation. And, of course, there’s defensemen Dylan Gaines, Dylan Johnson and Colin Squires, who Tierney described as the “overlooked rock” of last year’s success.

“We feel good about the defensive end of the field,” Tierney said. “Those three guys are going to hold us together at that end,” Tierney said.

The Case Against Denver

Trevor Baptiste was a four-year security blanket, and there was never much need to look to other options when he was around. After all, he was only the sixth player in the sport’s history to earn first team All-America honors four times, a fact Tierney thinks is a bit underappreciated.

“The flip side is, everybody graduates,” Tierney said. “You’ve got to move on with life.”

Baptiste’s replacements will come from some combination of senior Ryan Harnisch (2 of 3 last season), junior Sean Penna (1 of 4) and freshmen Brett Boos and Jackson Harvey. Any of those could work out for the Pioneers, but none of them are seriously tested at the college level.

Path to the Playoffs

The clearest road for Denver is through the Big East tournament, which will conveniently be played at Peter Barton Stadium this season. But as usual, Tierney’s barnstorming schedule is littered with potential NCAA tournament teams. The Pioneers face three ACC teams (Duke, North Carolina and Notre Dame) and will also see Ohio State, Princeton and Towson.

Win a few of those, and the Pioneers will have a great chance at a 10th NCAA tournament appearance in a row — and that’s even before diving into conference play.

Players To Watch

Austin French, A, Sr.
29G, 31A

French was quietly an exceptional table-setter for the Pioneers last year, and he’ll have the benefit of familiarity while leading an attack unit that also includes Colin Rutan and Ethan Walker.

Dylan Gaines, D, Sr.
36GB, 22CT

A third team All-America pick last season, Gaines is probably a bit overlooked because of how much possession the Pioneers have enjoyed throughout his career. He’ll anchor a defense likely to face more pressure this season.

Ethan Walker, A, Jr.
48G, 45.3 SH%

Only two Pioneers have produced multiple 70-point seasons. One is Wesley Berg. The other is Walker, who has done it in back-to-back seasons and is a good bet to make it three in a row at the head of the potent Denver offense.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 20th 11.35 GPG
Defense 3rd 7.88 GAA
Faceoffs 2nd 73.8 FO%
Ground Balls 42nd 26.70/game
Caused TO 65th 4.88/game
Shooting 14th 32.8%
Man-Up 5th 51.2%
Man-Down 62nd 55.6%
Assists 5th 8.21/game
Turnovers 7th 11.63/game
Clearing 36th 85.6%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐

5

Consecutive games away from home, a stretch spanning nearly the entire month of March. The Pioneers visit North Carolina, face Notre Dame in Costa Mesa, Calif., travel to Ohio State and then have an East Coast swing against Towson and Princeton that month.

5-Year Trend
Man-Down Defense

Year

Rank

GPG

2014 T-40th 62.9%
2015 56th 57.1%
2016 T-8th 70.6%
2017 54th 56.8%
2018 62nd 55.6%

Coach Confidential
Bill Tierney

“Can we win a decent amount of faceoffs? We’ll be OK if that happens and if we stay healthy at the defensive end of the field.”

Enemy Lines

"It’ll be interesting to see what they do without Trevor Baptiste. People are expecting them to play a little faster, especially with a guy like Ethan Walker leading the attack. They have a lot coming back."

"The shot clock, they’re going to use that to their advantage. They’re that hybrid of American and Canadian, and they blend so well and they’re hungry. I’m sure they felt like they underachieved last year and they’re going to be really hungry."

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