New Look Pioneers Aiming to Restore Winning Way
There’s a lot that is new this year for the University of Denver’s men’s lacrosse team. Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium received a major makeover with new turf and a new design on the field. When the student-athletes take the field, they will be wearing new jerseys matching the color and design of the field. And after 17 years as an assistant coach for DU, Matt Brown takes over as the new head coach after the retirement of Bill Tierney.
“Somebody asked me if it feels any different being the head coach as opposed to the assistant coach,” Brown says. “It really hasn’t, but I miss having my buddy around. That’s how I would describe it.”
Brown (BSBA ’05) was a four-year starter for DU in the early 2000s, and his 113 goals is the fourth most in program history. Coaching at his alma mater was not something he considered as he was trying to figure out what was next after college.
Brown played professionally in both Arizona and Colorado, which also gave him the opportunity to begin working with kids on their lacrosse game.
“I fell in love with interacting with the players,” he says. “That’s when I really found out that I loved coaching.”
His coach when he played at DU brought him back as a volunteer coach and, over the next 17 years, Brown served as assistant coach, associate head coach and now, the William G. Tierney Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach. “There’s something to be said for being able to coach at the place where you played and went to school,” Brown says.
His coaching experience is not limited to the college game. Brown, a native of British Columbia, was an assistant for Team Canada when it defeated Team U.S.A. in 2012. He coached Canada’s under-19 team in 2022 at the world championships. And this past summer, he was the head coach for the Canadian national team at the World Lacrosse Championships. They lost in the championship game to the U.S., a team that included two DU alums — Trevor Baptiste and Danny Logan.
“I felt like we (Canada) had a chance to win this thing. But Trevor, anytime you go against him, he’s got something else to say,” Brown says. “That was special, with Trevor and Danny, two of our best. I am so proud of those guys and the way that they represent DU.”
Many of the student-athletes on this year’s DU team feel the same way about their new coach. Seven seniors from last season decided to come back for a fifth and final year of eligibility to support Brown.
“We wanted to see a smooth transition from Coach T to Coach Brown,” says Alec Stathakis, the team’s faceoff specialist. “He’s been at Denver for so long; he went to college here, and he’s been coaching here for a long time. He just bleeds crimson and gold. It’s nice having a coach that is that passionate and who understands what it’s like being a student-athlete and what it means to be a Pioneer.”
This group of returning seniors is also playing with some added motivation. In four years, they have only appeared once in the NCAA Tournament, and they have never won the Big East conference tournament. After losing to Georgetown in last year’s conference championship game, DU did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I just wasn’t ready to hang them up yet,” says attackman JJ Sillstrop. “There was a lot of unfinished business with not winning the Big East. I was excited to play for Coach Brown and have one last go at this thing.”
“This group of seniors has a chip on their shoulder of wanting to win the Big East title and beat Georgetown. They are the kings; they are at the top of the throne. Until somebody knocks them off, they are the kings of the Big East,” Brown says.
The regular season for the 13th ranked Pioneers begins this Saturday when they travel to play No. 5 Johns Hopkins. They will face three more schools ranked in the preseason top 10.
The mantra for DU this year is “never satisfied.” They expect to play with a sense of desperation and not overlook any one team just because of their record or what may have happened in the past.
“Every game is big. I think our flaw the past few years is maybe we don’t take one game as seriously as another,” Stathakis says. “We are just looking for wins. We don’t care who we play, and we don’t care what they are ranked. We will play you anywhere, anytime; it doesn’t matter to us.”