When Ryan LaPlante got the call, the bright lights of the big stage could not have been farther away.
As a freshman goalie for the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team, LaPlante was very nearly redshirted this year, and he was not on the traveling squad when the Pioneers hit the road in mid-March to take on a pair of national powers, Notre Dame and Cornell.
It was spring break on campus, and with the team out of town, LaPlante returned to his native Fort Collins, Colo., for a relaxing weekend at home. LaPlante was watching his teammates take on the Fighting Irish when he noticed starting goalie Jamie Faus hobbling off the field late in what turned out to be a gut-wrenching triple-overtime loss.
Faus’ injury, a ruptured Achilles tendon, immediately turned LaPlante’s rookie campaign upside down.
Within hours LaPlante was informed his services were needed at Cornell, and soon he was flying across the country to join his teammates in New York. The freshman has manned the pipes for DU ever since and will be in the spotlight when the No. 16-ranked Pioneers host No. 3/4 Duke Friday in the Inside Lacrosse Whitman’s Sampler Mile High Classic at Sports Authority Field.
The DU-Duke tilt will be preceded by a showdown between defending national champion Virginia and Penn. The Pioneers’ game will be televised live by ESPNU.
“My life definitely flipped 180 degrees,” LaPlante says. “I hadn’t traveled for a game yet and hadn’t even played in a scrimmage. I got the call and got very excited. I had to calm myself down a little bit. It all happened very fast. I was so excited to get an opportunity to play at this level, especially against a program like Cornell.
“Five minutes after the Notre Dame game (assistant coach) Trevor Tierney sent me a text to call him immediately. He told me to have fun with it and don’t overthink it. I was more excited than anything.”
It was fitting that LaPlante received that season-changing call from Trevor Tierney, given the lengthy relationship the pair has shared.
When LaPlante was a student at Fort Collins High School, he competed for the Boulder-based club Icon Lacrosse, where Trevor Tierney worked as a coach. When Trevor’s father, Bill Tierney, took over the DU program in 2009, Bill added his son to the Pioneers’ staff as a volunteer assistant. DU quickly vaulted to the top of LaPlante’s list as the collegiate recruiting process heated up.
LaPlante is quick to credit Trevor Tierney, a former All-American goalie, for helping him master the finer nuances of the position.
“He started to work with me a lot, and it was just awesome,” LaPlante says. “When all the recruiting stuff was going on, he wasn’t a [DU] coach yet. Once he got the job, of course I was very interested in Denver. I wanted to have a goalie coach in college, because I knew that would be huge for me. I didn’t have a goalie coach in high school, and having one in club season really helped me in games. It makes that much of a difference.”
LaPlante has acquitted himself well during his trial by fire, going 3-3 in six starts. Going into Friday’s showdown against Duke, LaPlante has compiled a .548 save percentage, topping the .524 mark Faus owned before his injury, while posting an 8.71 goals-against average.
“Ryan’s been great. He was great the first time he stepped on the field against Cornell,” Bill Tierney says. “He was great when he got here in September and we thought about redshirting him. He’s had little spurts, like every goalie in the country, where a couple went by him that he’d like to have back. But overall he has done a phenomenal job. You look at our clearing game, and it’s really improved since Ryan has been with us. He has done a really great job with that.”