The Past is Fueling this Year’s DU Men’s Lacrosse Team
Talk with the coaches and student-athletes of the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team about last season and how it ended, and it won’t be long before you sense the anger and frustration.
“It’s extremely irritating, and I think about it a lot,” says Jack Hannah, one of three team captains this year. “It had a terrible ending, and it sucked. The game hurt a lot.”
The Pioneers entered the first round of the NCAA tournament ranked seventh in the country, and they hosted Loyola at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. DU trailed for most of the game, and with only seconds remaining, had a shot blocked that would have sent the contest to overtime. The season was over.
“I’ve thought about the Loyola game a million times. It haunts us,” Hannah says. “I’ve gone back and watched the game to get better. I looked at all the mistakes I made throughout the game that would have changed the outcome.”
Last season’s disappointing finish, coupled with some less-than-favorable national outlooks for DU this season, is fueling the team. Preseason rankings have the University of Denver at No. 12. And for the first time, a Bill Tierney team has not been picked to win the Big East Conference. That honor belongs to Georgetown, which has defeated DU in the Big East Tournament for three consecutive seasons.
“We have to reprove this year that we are good,” says Tierney, who has been Denver’s head coach since 2010. “I never doubt a Denver athlete when the odds are against them. When they think they are being overlooked or when everyone else thinks someone else is better, they have always risen to the occasion.”
Tierney is confident the team’s student-athletes will surprise the national critics. He says Alec Stathakis will be one of the best players in the country from the faceoff dot. At defense and goalie, he is excited about the team’s depth this season. And although they lost several attackmen to graduation, they will be helped by a deep and talented midfield that features Hannah and Ted Sullivan, two of the five graduate students on the team taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
“I didn’t expect to get a chance to play five years,” Sullivan says. “This now feels like a true senior year and a year where we get to lead the team and have a major impact with the results.”
They are excited to have the opportunity to do it again in front of fans, since games last year were played in an empty Peter Barton or in front of only family.
“Our stadium on a Saturday is a special environment,” Tierney says. “We’ve got little kids, we’ve got adults, we’ve got parents, we’ve got fans, we have people rooting against us. It is such a fun atmosphere.”
The Pioneers are ready to show their fans and national critics that they are underestimating this year’s team.
“Everyone on the team has the same mindset,” Sullivan says. “We have all the confidence in the world in ourselves and our ability to be successful and win a championship. We don’t have to be in the spotlight, but we know we can be.”
As for getting past Georgetown, add that to the list of motivations fueling the University of Denver this season.
“Not saying that Georgetown is not a great team, because they are really good, but we are really good too,” Hannah says. “People seem to be thinking that they are better than us this year, and to me that hurts. Because when I came in as a freshman, we had a grasp on the Big East. It feels like over my career here, things have backtracked. So we need to take a step in the right direction and win this thing.”