Received a call late last week from an irate University of Denver fan. She wanted me to apologize, to her and the world, for once expressing my doubts the Pioneers would ever win an NCAA men’s lacrosse title.
When I gently reminded her the Pioneers still have never won an NCAA lacrosse title, her anger multiplied.
And yet …
It is time to salute DU’s Bill Tierney, who left the comfort of Princeton to dive into the great unknown in Colorado. For decades, lacrosse has been dominated by a small collection of schools in the East. Only eight schools have won the NCAA title — Duke, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Princeton, North Carolina, Cornell and Maryland — and all are situated within 270 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. (DU is 1,500 miles from the Atlantic.)
College lacrosse is more than a little repetitive: my alma mater, Syracuse, has won the title five times since 2000. That’s why I was skeptical DU would win a title. That’s why I remain skeptical, even though the Pioneers face a dreamy scenario as they travel to the final four.
All four of the top seeds have been eliminated, leaving an relatively easy path to the title.
DU, on a 12-game winning streak, faces Virginia on Saturday at Baltimore’s M&T Stadium. Virginia has won four national titles, including two since 2003, but don’t be too quick to dismiss the Pioneers. Tierney is 8-2 in NCAA semis.
Tierney has quickly established DU as a national presence, if not quite a national power. He’s one of the nation’s premier college coaches, regardless of sport, and his quick renovation job at DU is one of the highlights of his sensational career. Tierney won six titles — and traveled to the final eight times — during an amazing run at Princeton from 1992-2002.
I thought Tierney had lost a touch of his magic when he took the DU job in 2009. Remember, he’s failed to return to the final since 2002.
I was wrong. Tierney has reignited his career in the shadow of the Rockies. He’s proven himself worthy of the considerable confidence of DU athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes, who immediately — and rather arrogantly — announced her plans for a national title after hiring Tierney in 2009.
Peg, congrats on the rapid rise. Turns out, you had reason for your arrogance.
So, it looks as if The Evil Empire of the North is poised to become a national force in lacrosse.
This is great news for lacrosse fans in Colorado, even though I suspect Colorado College fans are reluctant to join in applause for Tierney’s accomplishment.