Wednesday, June 10

Take the Load Off Manny, and ya PUT THE LOAD RIGHT ON ME (The Band)

I think I am much better at “Monday Morning Quarterback” than I am at predicting and prognosticating. The more I think about what will or might happen, the more I become invested in the outcome, thereby losing objectivity to some degree. Unless it involves the Philadelphia Phillies, there will never be a seven game playoff series in any sport that I don’t want to go seven games. I like to both see and ‘think on’ things before I pronounce any sort of judgment, as in later. Who knows, I might even learn something by doing things that way. So, let me be the last to weigh in on the NCAA Division I lacrosse Championship, because I am sure everyone else has moved way on to all that summer stuff and away from those three games that made for a great final four weekend over Memorial Day, but I have still a few final thoughts on that day in late May.


Before the game I felt like D.U. had, and really has for the last few years, had the talent to win it all. They got close but something always melted down before the final nail could get close to hammer time. This year here was their first final I think. My question remained and I wondered if they were hungry enough, and I only ask that because of how motivated ALL of the final four teams were. Denver had the talent, maybe right down to the perfect mixture of talent, but again that is not new. My feeling was that if the goalie kid from Northern Colorado made a few stops in goal, and he (Ryan Laplante) certainly did (13) then it would be a done deal and this would be their year finally. The final score of 10-5 is probably a pretty good indicator of exactly what took place, and in fact the Terps never really mounted much of a challenge after they were turned away early a few times.

The team was followed and adored by local lacrosse fans in a big and great way when they brought the Championship plaque back to the Mile High City. The celebration was pretty good. The final impact remains to be seen, but it would seem there will be a little more largeness to the local lacrosse scene in Colorado because of this.


D.U. winning the first National Championship for a University located west of North Carolina is indeed novelty, definitely cool, but at the same time it (Denver) seems like the logical destination on a long and windy road to that D.U. Door. It does not totally complete the job of blowing up the East Coast stereotype reasoning that has always said that the best lax players and the best teams all come from a couple of small population pockets located along the Atlantic Coast, but it can’t hurt, that is for sure. Well, ‘they’ actually have known for quite some time that there are great players to recruit sprinkled everywhere, even north of the U.S. border, but this is the first time that a TEAM with a western location has stood up and validated these new edges and broader horizons for the lacrosse frontier and the power of that community. I am pretty sure it is only the beginning of some new tribal traditions for the game of lacrosse, and especially college ball.


The Pioneer game plan seemed to be that they would not let the Maryland Terps play the make-it-take-it game with their great face-off guy, Raffa, helping the Maryland tempo get its skill players in rhythm by his winning of face-offs with monotonous regularity. The Terps have plenty of offensive firepower to light things up and are able to put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard real fast. Tierney teams always have had gigantic defensemen that usually did not have exactly tremendous speed or artistic stickwork, but they have always locked down pretty well in the one on one’s. With this D.U. version, the team was still true that, but he also had a couple of Longstick Middies stashed away somewhere and he brought them out for this day. These were sleeker poles with speed and great stickwork. The Pios put the two on the face-off wings with their long poles and perhaps I am incorrect, but they seemingly were committed to NOT allowing Maryland to have easy possessions on the draw.  Most of the F.O.’s were fights and 50-50’s. Maryland was thrown off of what they wanted to do well before they ever got started for the most part.


The Denver Team seemed well connected, better than ever this year. The game plan in general seemed well devised. I know that Matt Brown has been with Tierney for a while, and has a fantastic offensive system in place, and the most talented players execute great, but it also just felt like they were a little freer to read and react and less needy of bench control this year, and it was just fun to watch them ‘spin the rock’.


On defense it was easy to see this year that the goalie had been mentored by his coach (Trevor Tierney) to a place where he overachieved as a goalie in a big way, and the team reaped the benefits, This Denver defense was a totally functional scene on that day, a beautiful thing, and I think this goalie-coach relationship is always so key for a team under any circumstances, and that one surely shined on that day.


They (DU) have had the winning recipe for a while, and have gotten almost close a few times already. Back in the Princeton Days, Tierney put fear in the hearts of officials, as in he was extremely intimidating. As he aged and moved west and he also wasn’t winning every year, they stopped fearing him as much (I think), and his temper absolutely cost the Pioneers on one or two important occasions a couple of years ago. You could still see the fire in 2015, but he tempered it in a way that never hurt his team, and it just seemed like, even with all those rings, he was coaching better than ever almost.


As a Colorado guy I am thrilled that the Denver Pioneers have done this. Moreover perhaps, I have always rooted for Bill Tierney teams. I tried to copy them best as I could. I mean how do you do all that (5 Championships…or was it six?) at Princeton anyway? Especially where they were when he first went there. Even as an older young college coach I was so impressed with what Princeton had accomplished as they amassed National Championships. I am thinking D.U. is a little easier to recruit. It must be heaven for him. I tried to absolutely copy his Princeton team defense and its concepts, and as I saw them work for my team I became an even bigger believer. I must have watched Coach Tierney’s “Sliding Defense” tape from the 1997 coaches convention hundreds of times, always finding or hearing something new with each viewing. He didn’t just spoon feed. He encouraged player understanding and that made the teaching and learning process pretty simple and fun. When I went to the final Four in I think 2000, it was in College Park and Princeton did not win, but I was in the parking lot spying on them and how they dealt with alumni and all of it. I knew I likely would never have green blazers and matching ties in my world, but boy’s got to have a dream, and mine was to have my team sort of play like those Princeton ones did, not necessarily to dress that way.


As teams evolved and learned how to deal with our slides and the Princeton defense, etc. I would email Bill Tierney, and he always took the time and graciously answered my coaching questions when he could. In 2004 we were both in Tokyo in Japan. He was touring with his (I think recently crowned Princeton National Champs) and I was coaching an All Star team called USA West, which happened to be heavily rostered by CSU and Sonoma State. In Japan they had 7000 at the games. I have no idea where they drudged up that many. There aren’t 7000 players in Japan, that is for sure.

We hung out, Bill and I. He and we talked about all kinds of stuff. He was candid. I was lucky enough to hang on their sidelines when Princeton played the Japanese National Team, and while many of the players had a bit of a spring break attitude shall we say (it was summer and all), Bill showed that there were no games anywhere on earth that did not count for him when he pretty much verbally ‘undressed’ an assistant trainer during the game for some lame little mistake, and there was definitely a whole lot of snickering going on as the players scrambled to hide behind each other and be out of Tierney sight while this was all happening. By the way it is not like the game was close or anything.


The expectations for western lacrosse have been there. They are not new. Now they have finally have been largely met I would say, and the future looks to be brightly lit with plenty playing the game at all levels and ages out west. “Home, home on the range….and the skies are not cloudy all day”. Lacrosse probably will be Division I in at North Dakota State by 2021. I hope ‘they’ still allow them to play with both hands…


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