Photo Credit: laxmagazine.com
An all too familiar collision between the reigning national champion Denver Pioneers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take place this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. MT in South Bend, Indiana. The short, yet rich history between the two western-rivals magnifies the intensity and passion sparked by the fastest growing rivalry in college lacrosse.
Both unbeaten and top-ranked, Nos. 1 & 2 Notre Dame and Denver share more than just proximity as the two “western” programs in the top ten. Both are fairly new programs as Denver became varsity in 1966 and joined Division I in 1999, while Notre Dame’s varsity program originated in 1981. Until last season, neither program had won a national championship.
Both head coaches have transformed their programs into the best in the nation during their tenures. Denver-Notre Dame has evolved into an electrifying matchup every time they share the field. In fact, four of the past six meetings between the Pioneers and the Irish have required overtime to determine the winner.
In the 2015 regular season, the Pios surged to an 11-10 victory over the Irish thanks to Zach Miller at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Down by one goal late in the final quarter, Miller delivered the game-tying goal with just 1:19 remaining in regulation. As the game was went into overtime, Miller converted the game-winner with 3:18 remaining to deny the visitors the “W.”
On their quest to claim their first-ever national championship last season, No. 4 seeded Denver stunned No. 1 Notre Dame in the national semifinals in Philadelphia. Tewaaraton Award Finalist and United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-American, Wes Berg, sent Denver to their first National Championship appearance with his overtime marker. Tyler Pace fed Berg who secured his 29th career hat trick with 2:03 left in the first overtime to down the Irish 11-10, yet again.
“Its become very intense especially with just the general way the games over the years have gone heading into overtime, ” Head Coach Bill Tierney said. “Its become a pretty fierce rivalry knowing there is a decent chance that no matter who wins or loses this game [on Sunday], we’re going to be seeing them later in the year.”
Following last week’s thrilling 13-12 overtime victory over North Carolina, Sunday’s contest will serve as another test for the national champions.
“North Carolina was another erratic game, there were parts that were extremely good and extremely bad, but there was little in-between.” Coach Tierney said. “Notre Dame is the hardest team in the country to score on and we need to make sure we hold them off as well.”
The Irish’s offensive stars senior attack Matt Kavanagh and junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic, both USILA All Americans, are two of the best players in the country according to Coach Tierney and will threaten Denver’s inconsistent defense.
“Defensively [this season], we’ve tended to give up a lot of goals in little spurts, which means we aren’t quite there yet [level of play].”
Despite finals week preceding the rivalry game, Coach Tierney notes that there isn’t a lack of motivation from the Pios who will be fully ready to brawl come Sunday afternoon.