For coach Bill Tierney, the secret to getting his University of Denver men’s lacrosse team to stay focused and relaxed before the program’s first national championship game was to do nothing at all.
On May 25, Tierney’s Pioneers faced off against the University of Maryland Terrapins at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. It was the third straight year that Tierney and the Pioneers had reached the Division I tournament’s Championship Weekend. In each of the prior tournaments, the Pioneers had come up just short. So Tierney resolved to make a change by not changing anything at all.
“This year we just said, ‘nothing different,’” he says. “We just treated it like any other trip.”
That meant ditching previous gimmicks Tierney had used to fire up his team. Gone were motivational speakers like then-Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker. Gone too were the beards the players grew last year before losing in the semifinals. Or the superstition that they shouldn’t touch the Big East tournament trophy in fear that it might jinx their chances of winning the bigger one that goes to national champions.
Tierney’s insistence on boring routine even filtered down to the team’s meals — the players ate breakfast nearly every day at the same restaurant across the street from the hotel.
That emphasis on normalcy had paid off one game earlier, when the Pioneers were tested by Notre Dame in the semifinals.
Despite blowing a big lead and being forced into overtime, Tierney says his players weren’t rattled. “The huddle was very calm,” he says. “We knew all we needed to do was score one goal.”
Which they did. Which led to the showdown against No. 6-seeded Maryland, a game watched by students in a half-dozen sponsored parties near campus and by alumni at get-togethers in a dozen cities around the country, from Atlanta to Seattle.
In contrast to the nail-biter against Notre Dame, the Pioneers were dominant in the final. The tournament’s most outstanding player, Wesley Berg, scored five goals, while senior goaltender Ryan LaPlante registered 13 saves in the 10-5 victory, a game in which the Pioneers never trailed. After the final whistle sounded, the Pioneers mobbed each other on the field, then took turns cutting off parts of the net and tucking the souvenirs into their shorts for safekeeping as the celebration continued.
Among the many spectators in the stands was Chancellor Rebecca Chopp, whose first year at the DU helm ended with the Pioneers becoming the first school west of the Appalachians to claim the men’s lacrosse title.
“Being in Philadelphia and watching Coach Tierney lead our team to victory was an absolute highlight of my first year as chancellor,” Chopp says.
Chopp was joined by Tierney, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Chancellor Emeritus Dan Ritchie and hundreds of Pioneers lacrosse fans at a May 26 campus rally celebrating the victory. Hancock’s enthusiasm about the win extended to taking a selfie with members of the team.
“This achievement helps to bring together the whole DU community — students, faculty, staff , alumni and friends,” Chopp says.
Alumnus Charles Dorison (BA ’72) agrees. “For many of the alums I joined in Philly, it was the best DU sports weekend of our lives,” he says. Adds fellow alumnus Tom Douglis (BA ’86), “Some of the students told me it was not only one of their best days at DU, but one of the best days of their lives.”