The Western part of the United States is historically known for its legendary gold rush, outlaw cowboys, and sharp shooters who became famous for their incredible aim and accuracy. Now, in 2013, there is a new breed of sharpshooters emerging from the Wild West, only now they're suiting up in MLL uniforms.
Traditionally in the lacrosse community, the schools that produce the majority of MLL talent lie on the east coast of the US. Schools like Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell are known for molding their athletes into Major League Lacrosse's stars of the future, but as the game continues to grow at an exponential rate there is a new lacrosse program churning out some of MLL’s brightest young stars, the University of Denver.
The story for Denver started in 2009 with the arrival of legendary coach, and father of MLL champion goaltender Trevor, Bill Tierney. Despite some serious doubt by lacrosse experts across the country, Tierney left his well-established Princeton program to join the Pioneers, a decision that has grown the game in Colorado, and has ultimately produced some of the professional game’s finest young players.
“So many things drew me to Denver after 22 wonderful years at Princeton,” said Tierney. “A chance to coach with my son, Trevor, a chance to help get a relatively new program, albeit a program that was left in very good shape by Coach [Jamie] Munro, get to the next level in an area where it hadn't been done before. A chance to be an ambassador for the game as it grows in so many different areas, and a new beginning to recharge my personal 'professional batteries'.”
A relative unknown in lacrosse until recent successes, the University of Denver has produced MLL's newest and most talented athletes: Mark Matthews (New York Lizards), Cam Flint (Boston Cannons), Chase Carraro (Ohio Machine), and most notably Denver Outlaws attacker Eric Law, have all entered the league and have made immediate impacts for their respective teams.
“I love the MLL and what it does to offer opportunities to amazingly talented young men as they continue their lacrosse careers at a very high level,” said Tierney when asked about what it means for his players to be drafted. “From watching early Princeton players like Kevin Lowe, Jon Hess, Chris Massey, & Jesse Hubbard amongst many others, to my son Trevor and some of his teammates from Princeton's 2001 Championship team get drafted, all the way through this year with Eric Law, Cam Flint, & Chase Carraro being picked, I always get a thrill and feel extremely happy for them and for our program. Watching my guys from Princeton and Denver do so well, is a special opportunity to be proud of the part you may have played in their lives.”
The Tierney name, combined with the gorgeous Denver campus, was an advantage in the recruiting war to claim some of the best players in North America. That recruiting has been an important piece to the successes of the Pioneers.
“Honestly, there haven't been very many challenges to recruiting guys to come play at Denver. If they hesitate about the location or distance, we just don't recruit them. Our roster is the most diverse in the country, with guys from 20 different states and two Canadian provinces. If Denver as a city, the Rocky Mountains, our great University, amazing facilities, my coaching staff, unprecedented support from our administration, a great conference, and a proven record of NCAA tournament success don't convince a young man to come, then he's not our guy and that's OK.”
One of the more important player moves in the history of the program occurred when now Denver Outlaws’ attacker, Eric Law, transferred from DIII Salisbury to become a Pioneer. Not just a Pioneer with his uniform, but also with his actions.
The move from a high-level DIII program like Salisbury to the western part of the country was a move that, in some ways, proved the legitimacy of the Denver program.
“Coach Tierney has made me into the player I am today,” said Law when asked about his transfer to DU. “Playing for him has been so much fun. It’s been awesome for me to be able to stay in Colorado and play in front of my home town and the youth organizations I played for when I was a kid. Being a part of the growth of the game in Colorado has been so much fun, and being able to see my family and the kids that I coach at all of the games has been a dream come true.”
Despite Law’s successes early on in his professional career, he is not the first Denver graduate that made an immediate impact. In 2012 the Denver Outlaws selected Mark Matthews, a shifty Canadian lefty who made a name for himself with his highlight reel goals. During his time in college, Matthews became Denver’s workhorse leading his team to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances. Now a member of the New York Lizards, Matthews continues to score goals, but maintains that growing the game is the most important goal of all.
“It’s cool to think that the six of [the 2008 freshman class] that finished up our four years at Denver had something to do with the successes of the program, and the growth of lacrosse in that region,” said the now New York Lizards’ attacker, “All of us that graduated in 2012 were at the final four this year to support the team, and it was pretty cool to see the support from all the former players and alumni.”
While MLL does not have a large presence in the western part of the US at this point in time, the passion and dedication of the Denver Outlaws' fan base, as well as college programs that continue to promote the growth of lacrosse, has proved that the sport is viable in that area of the country.
Similar to the settlers of the early 20
th century, the west presents an unknown for the game of lacrosse. It would appear, however, that sometimes when a new challenge lies in front of the game, all you need is a talented group of Pioneers.