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'Tight-Knit' Culture Brings Lacrosse Players Back For One More Run

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Jordyn Reiland


Jordyn Reiland writer

Feature  •
Athletics  •

Change is constant in college athletics, but not for seven members of the men's lacrosse team who returned for a final season.

Alec Stathakis runs with the lacrosse ball

Faceoff specialist and graduate student captain Alec Stathakis.

When a storied head coach retires, it is not uncommon for athletes to transfer or opt out of their final season.

For the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team, however, that was uniquely not the case. In fact, the team has seven graduate students on the roster for the 2024 season.

Matt Brown
Head Coach Matt Brown

Players and coaches alike credit the program’s culture as a big reason why they decided to return.

“They love the culture that we have here; I think it's one that's very tight knit. I think it's one where they know that they can be themselves, they know that they're going to get challenged and be held accountable but, at the same time, loved,” Head Coach Matt Brown says.

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.

The graduate students include Alec Stathakis, Jake Edinger, Richie Connell, AJ Mercurio, JJ Sillstrop, Jack DiBenedetto and Adam Hangland.

Brown’s first task upon becoming head coach was to gauge whether the seven seniors planned to return to DU and take advantage of their final year of eligibility.

But there was no doubt among the group, says faceoff specialist and graduate student captain Stathakis.

“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,” he says.

“We talk about what being a Pioneer is. … We talk about what being a good leader is, he’s that example. It’s been awesome to have him this year,” Stathakis adds.

For captain and graduate student Edinger, Brown’s love for the game—and his history as a coach and player at DU—played a meaningful role in his decision to return for one more year.

“Coach Brown just bleeds crimson and gold, and his passion for the program was really what got me back for another year,” the short stick defensive midfielder says.

The team has started off the season strong with a 6-1 record, most recently defeating Ohio State on March 17, and seeing its first No. 1 ranking since 2017 earlier this month.

The team’s fifth-year players have provided an additional level of leadership and support to their younger teammates—but also to each other.

“I think anytime there's guys with a lot of experience, a lot of those younger guys can learn—especially guys that maybe get some [opportunities] later in games—they can just be sponges,” Edinger says. “These younger guys coming in have [also] been a huge push for us.”

For the team’s fifth-year players, Brown wants to see them “make their mark,” particularly after a disappointing end to last season.

“I want them to be champions by the end of it because I know they're capable of doing it,” he says. “I know that by the end of this thing, when it's all said and done and the season's over, they can walk out of here saying that they've left this place in a much better place than when I first got here.”

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