DENVER – Air Force’s lacrosse team has traveled far in the past four seasons.
On Saturday, Denver’s Pioneers revealed how far the Falcons must travel to join the nation’s elite.
DU, also known as The Evil Empire of the North, dominated Air Force, 17-10, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in front of a sell-out crowd at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.
Dozens of fans were wearing freshly made shirts proclaiming the Pioneers' 2017 supremacy in college hockey. Others wore shirts that announced DU’s status as the “capital” of western lacrosse.
Pioneers fans have long excelled at the art of being highly irritating, but give them credit: Both of the shirts speak the truth, and nothing but.
DU won the national lacrosse title in 2015, ruling a college lacrosse realm that long has been dominated by teams on the Eastern Seaboard.
The Falcons have traveled to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past four years, and established themselves as a regional power.
But they remain firmly entrenched as the second-best team in Colorado. The Pioneers have grown, suddenly and convincingly, into a consistent national power. DU coach Bill Tierney has won seven national titles – six at Princeton – and you can be sure he’s hungry for No. 8.
Air Force coach Eric Seremet emphasized the positives after the defeat, his ninth straight to DU. He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., during an era when it was unthinkable for a national power to reside in Colorado.
On Saturday, two Colorado teams tangled in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought this day, regardless of the outcome, was great for the sport, great for Colorado,” Seremet said.
Air Force remained in sight during the first half, trailing 6-3 at the break. The Falcons walked into their locker room with a realistic chance at a monster upset.
The Pioneers stampeded the Falcons in the third quarter, scoring seven goals and vaulting to a 13-7 lead. It was over.
Much of the credit for DU’s dominance goes to Trevor Baptiste, who resembles a bull. Baptiste is a master in the art of the faceoff. He won 23 of his 27 faceoffs, which helps explain why Air Force managed only five shots in the first half.
“He’s arguably the best in the country, the best in the world,” Air Force senior Austin Smith said of Baptiste.
And, unfortunately for the Falcons, Baptiste returns for the Pioneers next season. As long as Tierney coaches the Pioneers, a national power will be lurking 60 miles up the road from the Air Force campus.
Seremet remains intent on toppling that powerhouse.
“One of these days,” he said with a smile a few minutes after yet another defeat by the Evil Empire of the North.