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4 Things to Know as Men’s Lacrosse Returns to Championship Weekend

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Jordyn Reiland


Jordyn Reiland writer

The Pioneers will face Notre Dame in the national semifinal at 10 a.m. MT on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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A DU lacrosse player in a face off with a Syracuse lacrosse player.

Graduate student and faceoff specialist Alec Stathakis fights for the ball. (Larry French/Clarkson Creative Photography)

The adage goes, “if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best”—and the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team has a chance to do just that this weekend.

No. 5 seed Denver (14-3) will face No. 1 seed Notre Dame at 10 a.m. MT on Saturday in the national semifinal at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and 104.3 The Fan HD3.

Coach Matt Brown hugs midfielder Ty Hussey.

DU defeated Syracuse 10-8 in the national quarterfinals on May 19 to earn its spot in championship weekend. Notre Dame beat No. 8 Georgetown 16-11 on May 18 in its quarterfinal game—the only team the Irish lost to during the regular season.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They’ve been No. 1 almost all year long and are defending champions, so we’ve got our hands full,” head coach Matt Brown said on Tuesday. “We’re going to have to be great on Saturday to walk away with a victory.”

This is DU’s 13th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its first since 2021.

The winner of this game will play the winner of Virginia-Maryland in the NCAA Championship game at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 27.

Here are four things you should know ahead of this weekend’s game.

1. The foe is familiar.

DU and Notre Dame are no strangers when it comes to facing off against each other—especially in the postseason. Denver is 11-14 all-time vs. Notre Dame.

The last time Denver won in the semifinal round came in 2015, when they beat ND 11-10 in overtime in Philadelphia. That was also the year DU won its first national championship.

The two programs have met two other times in the NCAA Tournament, the 2017 NCAA Quarterfinal and the 2018 NCAA First Round in South Bend.

The Pioneers and the Irish also played one another on May 7, 2020—the final game before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down collegiate sports. Denver beat ND 14-11.

“They’re great competitors, but we face a lot of good teams all year long, and we’re just really excited to play them and get another chance at them,” graduate student AJ Mercurio said earlier this week. “We luckily walked out with a win (back in 2020), so we plan on doing that again.”

2. Experience matters.

The team returned seven graduate students this season, six of whom played in DU’s last tournament appearance in 2021.

Mercurio, JJ Sillstrop, Richie Connell, Alec Stathakis, Jake Edinger, Adam Hangland and Jack DiBenedetto all utilized their fifth year of eligibility due to COVID.

“These guys have played in a lot of big games; they’ve been on the other side of the outcome in a lot of these games … gaining that experience and learning how to compete at this level,” Brown said earlier this week. “Now they’re at the pinnacle of our sport, and I’m just so proud of them for doing that.”

Players and coaches have credited the program’s culture as a big reason why the super seniors decided to return.

“I think a lot of guys could have gone on and played wherever they wanted to— they probably had the opportunities to—but I don't think any of us even thought about or entertained that thought of playing somewhere else,” Stathakis said back in March.

Stathakis, a captain and the Big East Specialist of the Year, has won 230 of 382 faceoffs this season (60.2%) and has picked up more than half of the ground balls he’s won (126).

Mercurio says their five seasons of playing experience can also help their younger teammates who have yet to play in a postseason environment like this.

“It’s easy for the guys that haven’t been in these big moments to follow the attitude and style of all the older guys,” he said earlier this week.

3. It’s been a top 10 season for the Pioneers

Denver kicked off the season with a 5-0 record, the second-best start in the program’s Division I history. On March 4, the team was ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since March 2017.

Since then, DU went 11-2 in the first 13 games and has been ranked in the top 10 for 16 straight weeks.

Midfielder Joshua Carlson, who has been coming to games at Peter Barton Stadium since he was in grade school, was inspired by DU’s first national championship victory in 2015 and hopes to do the same for the next generation of lacrosse players in Colorado.

“I think our group has always believed in each other and believed that (winning a national championship) is something we can do as a group,” Carlson said earlier this week.

4. First-year head coach Matt Brown has already made his mark.

Brown is already making an impact and building out his resume in his first season as the team’s head coach.

Legendary head coach Bill Tierney retired following his 42nd college season in 2023—14 of which were with DU—and Brown, then the offensive coordinator, took the helm.

Brown (BSBA ’05) was also a four-year starter for DU in the early 2000s. As offensive coordinator, the Pioneers’ offense was consistently ranked within the top 10 in scoring offense—climbing as high as No. 3.

Brown has been described by the players as someone who “bleeds crimson and gold.”

“When you have somebody at the top that has that much care for the sport, for the team, for every single one of the guys, it's so easy to show up every single day and grind—when the guy at the very top cares maybe just as much as or more than everybody else,” Mercurio says.

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