Lacrosse season opens with high hopes
One year removed from an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) title, the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team is looking read more…
One year removed from an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) title, the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team is looking to bounce back from last season’s 9–7 record to win the ECAC title again this season and contend for a national title.
The Pioneers will open the season Feb. 9 on the road against No. 4 Duke, followed by a Feb. 17 match vs. No. 15 Penn State at the Moe’s Southwest Grill Classic in Jacksonville, Fla. The latter game will be carried live on NBC Sports Network.
Despite finishing fourth in the conference last season, the Pioneers feel they are just a step away from regaining the level they reached in 2011. Last season Denver lost six games by one goal — including two one-goal losses to eventual NCAA champion Loyola — and the team believes it can turn those games into wins in 2013.
“You can look at last season and say it’s really disappointing, or you can look at it another way,” says head coach Bill Tierney. “If Loyola was the best team in the country last season, and we lost to them twice by one goal, we are certainly right on the cusp of where we want to be. We’re setting our goals high: We want to win an ECAC championship and try to win an NCAA championship.”
But even with high hopes entering the season, the Pioneers face some challenges as they prepare for the upcoming campaign. Denver will have to do without last season’s leading scorer, Mark Matthews, who was picked No. 1 overall in the National Lacrosse League draft in fall 2012. Matthews graduated from Denver as the University’s all-time leading scorer, with 216 career points and 155 career goals.
“We’ve been around this block a few times, with losing good players over the years,” Tierney says. “You really can’t try to replace Mark, because no one has the skill set that Mark has. I’ve always said it’s easier for coaches to change than for kids to change, and we have reworked our blueprint for the team. We’re going from a team that had a couple of superstars to a team that has a bunch of very good players who are going to share the ball and be unselfish. Our mentality is we don’t care who scores as long as we score.”
Denver also will have to deal with the loss of Alex Demopoulos, who tallied 20 goals and 27 assists last season.
Looking to fill part of the void will be senior Eric Law, who recorded 26 goals and 16 assists while starting all 16 games last season. Tierney is expecting Law to take on an expanded role in the upcoming season, as the Pioneers plan to run their offense through him, allowing him to become the “quarterback” of the team.
In the midfield, the Pioneers will be led by senior Chase Carraro, who last year was named a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-American and an ECAC Specialist of the Season. Carraro will be joined in the midfield by junior Jeremy Noble, who was also named a USILA Third-Team All-American with 25 goals and 21 assists.
Helping to hold down this year’s backline will be redshirt junior Drew Babb, who started all 16 games for Denver last season, causing a team-high 11 turnovers. He will be joined by sophomore Carson Cannon, who started all 16 games alongside Babb last season. Cannon recorded 14 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in 2012.
On the goalie roster, sophomore Ryan LaPlante and junior Jamie Faus will compete for time in the Denver net. Faus was named ECAC Rookie of the Year after his freshman season and entered last season as Preseason ECAC Defensive Player of the Year, but started just five games last season before being sidelined due to an Achilles injury. LaPlante started 10 games in his freshman campaign, allowing 9.93 goals per contest.
“Both of them have started a good number of games,” Tierney says. “It’s going to be a coach’s dream and a coach’s nightmare at the same time, trying to decide who is going to be our guy. Maybe it’ll be both.”
Denver’s home schedule begins with the DU Face-Off Classic, when the Pioneers will face No. 8 Lehigh and Canisius on Feb. 23 and 24, respectively, at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. The Pioneers will take on No. 3 Notre Dame March 16 at the Whitman’s Sampler Mile High Classic, which will be held at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The game will be carried live on ESPN3.com, and tape-delayed on ESPNU.