Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Max Planning has always been a humble and optimistic player no matter what team he suited up for. With his days playing for the University of Denver Pioneers lacrosse program numbered, Planning embodies the program’s character values instilled by head coach Bill Tierney as he excels as an integral component solidifying the team’s cohesion.
In Planning’s final appearance on the iconic Peter Barton pitch suiting up in Crimson and Gold, he had a storybook performance. In a 17-10 victory over Air Force, Planning scored his first career hat trick and dished out one assist.
“Sometimes in life, the stories don’t come out the way they should,” Tierney said. “But I think for Max if we win this national championship, lose this Saturday, or somewhere in between, that will always be a great memory and he deserves that.
Statistics sheets aren’t always an authentic indicator of an effective team leader. While there is often a correlation between top producers and players holding leadership roles, those attributes reflect more than numbers. Morale, resilience, patience, motivation, are all equally, if not more important qualities in a team leader.
“He is the leader in the end. He is a guy that could have easily been a captain. Sometimes guys vote on captains because of skill, when they should vote on captains for other qualities. I’ve always called him the captain out there without the ‘C.’,” Tierney said. “He’ll take care of other people on the street, he’ll be the one that pumps other people up when they’re down, even when he wasn’t playing a lot, he tries as hard as he can. He deserved that the other day. Hopefully, he’ll have a couple more [hat tricks].”
Planning, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound midfielder, took guidance from similar upperclassmen whom he resonated with. Being a role model for other players comes almost natural to Planning.
“Playing with guys like Harrison Archer [’14], Erik Adamson [’15], Mike Riis [’15] who weren’t captains, but were huge leaders to the team were inspirations to me coming into my senior year,” Planning said. “I wanted to be somebody that younger guys could look up to and that could keep guys motivated. I just try to keep the tempo up every practice no matter what. Playing my last home game on Peter Barton and having my first hat trick was very special, it was an awesome experience.”
Despite playing alongside some of the nation’s leading scorers and United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-American classmates Christian Burgdorf, Connor Cannizzaro, and Tyler Pace, Planning embraces and is committed to his role among the team.
“They call those guys glue guys. Without them, the team doesn’t really flow as well as it would without them,” Max’s older brother David said. “While they aren’t really the guys putting up the big numbers and on the Tewaaraton watch, without them, the team isn’t where it is. Adamson and guys like that were good role models for him and he was able to transform into that role. He’s always been like that though, even coming in as a freshman on the Gonzaga lacrosse team he was a role model and a guy that people looked up to and then he just flourished into that role at Denver.”
Planning, 22-years old, grew up in Alexandria, Virginia and always looked up to his older brother of two years David, who played collegiate lacrosse at Ohio State University.
“He’s [David] always been who I try to model myself after,” Planning said. “My last two schools who I was getting recruited after were Ohio State and Denver, he was at Ohio State. Obviously, I loved Denver, but the big deciding factor was that I wanted to do my own thing and wanted to make my own way.”
After playing two years together at Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C., the brothers clashed on the big stage of the 2015 NCAA quarterfinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Denver rallied back from a 7-1 deficit to defeat the Buckeyes 15-13, ending David’s collegiate career. The Pioneers would continue their run to Philadelphia and claim the program’s first national championship.
“Going into pretty much every game we would call each other and talk about our matchups and everything. We didn’t talk that week obviously,” Planning said. “We went down 7-1 and came back goal-by-goal and ended up beating them. After the game my mom’s crying, my dad’s kind of…he was sad. It was just an awkward moment and I was happy. It was really emotional for me just in the handshake line after the game giving him a hug. He’s the reason where I am today.”
Two-years removed from the heartbreak, David is proud of his brother, “No hard feelings about the 2015 game, that was just all fun. I’m just glad Max is still in the tournament.”
David looks forward to watching his brother the rest of DU’s journey. Now located with a job on Capitol Hill, he is unable to make the trek to Hempstead, N.Y. for DU’s matchup against Notre Dame this weekend, but said, “If they’re in Boston I’ll be the first one in the ticket line. I will be the first one in the stadium in Boston.”
With Ohio State still in the tournament and on opposing sides of the bracket, allowing for a potential DU vs. OSU final David says, “That would give me a heart attack.”
The Pioneers are one game away from a trip to Boston, facing their highest profile rival Notre Dame, a matchup that all but guarantees an overtime result. The process to reach the Final Four and return with hardware would be a deserving finale for Planning’s ride in the Crimson and Gold.
“For us to get there, [it would take] everyone playing their role,” Planning said. “Not trying to step out and do anything they can’t, but just do what we’ve been doing all year. For us to win the national championship again that would mean the world to me. Your reputation as a player is really what you do your senior year and what you leave as your legacy. A national championship with our, my classmates and I’s last year would be the best thing that you could ask for.”