Photo courtesy Denver Athletics
There is no absolute formula for success, especially for emerging lacrosse programs. Even the best and brightest don’t have a definitive answer to how they achieved success. Luckily they have acquired an abundance of useful lessons along the way. For Cleveland State lacrosse head coach Dylan Sheridan, having a confidant in his colleague and father-in-law, Bill Tierney, has been immensely helpful.
Outside of Tierney’s extensive accolades, the University of Denver head coach has seemingly infinite experiences to share as he provides guidance and unconditional support to Sheridan and the budding Cleveland State Vikings who are in their second season at the Division l level.
“He’s been great. I’d be hard-pressed to find another person who is as excited about us starting a program as he is,” Sheridan said. “There’s so much energy, newness and youth surrounding our team that, I think that’s, for him, unique and awesome. He likes to find out what we’re doing, what we’re up to. He’s been very supportive. There really aren’t a ton of experiences that he hasn’t seen at the Division l level over the course of his career so there’s so many opportunities for me to pick his brain and get feedback. He’s been very generous with his time and sharing those experiences with me.”
After joining DU’s staff in 2011, Sheridan spent four years as defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator, and working with the faceoff unit for the Pioneers before becoming the defensive and recruiting coordinator at Tierney’s former program, Princeton University.
Upon taking the helm at Cleveland State, Sheridan led the Vikings, which consisted of 34 true freshmen and just two junior transfers, to five wins throughout their inaugural 2017 season.
“What he’s done already is really pretty amazing,” Tierney said. “They are 0-4 right now [2018 season], but it’s much more competitive. I know he expects to win like every good coach should. It’s real lacrosse. They finished up their year last year with a bonafide Division l win over Detroit and that was a good sending off for them into the summer.”
Accepting the position in June of 2015 and the coincided challenge to spread the sport throughout the state of Ohio was full-circle for Sheridan. A graduate of the Western Reserve Academy, a private boarding school in Hudson, Ohio just 25 miles from Cleveland, Sheridan helped the program to claim its first and only state title in school history in 2001.
“Personally, it’s been like a dream come true,” Sheridan said. “I started playing lacrosse here so to bring Division l lacrosse to Northeast Ohio is pretty special. I think it’s a huge opportunity for the sport here in the midwest to have another Division l program. To give more opportunities for kids in this area to not only play at this level, but more importantly kids in this area to be exposed to the game at this level.”
Before Cleveland State broke into the Division l realm, the only opportunities to witness a lacrosse game at the highest level was to travel down to Columbus to see Ohio State or to trek to Notre Dame, Ind. to catch the Fighting Irish.
To encourage and enrich the expansion of the sport, Sheridan has integrated a difficult slate of opponents that challenge his team and introduce the caliber the program aspires to someday reach.
“From the external standpoint I wanted people in the area, people at the university and in the department to see what it’s like at the highest level, how it’s played and what it takes to be successful,” Sheridan said. “Internally, I wanted our players to experience the best lacrosse in the world. To be able to measure themselves against some of those teams. To measure their improvement and our improvement as a team over the course of the first few years. It was a multi-purpose as to why I have scheduled that way. Our players certainly love it and I think the lacrosse community in this area enjoys it as well.”
Cleveland State is currently categorized as an independent with hopes to join a conference in the near future. Knowing what it’s like to take over an introductory program while simultaneously trying to grow the sport, Tierney attests to the importance of allotting new programs with the opportunity to compete.
“I look at this like; I’m proud of the other programs that have given Cleveland State this opportunity because they play a top-ten schedule in the country,” Tierney said. “They’re playing Duke, they played Ohio State already, they’re playing Penn State. Some schools won’t play them and that’s ludicrous to me. A lot of leagues and a lot of conferences are not letting them into their conference. To me, that’s embarrassing. What are you afraid of? That’s another team in our sport that’s trying to get a foothold and you’re not letting them into conferences? Come on, that’s silly. They’re going through that. Utah is going through that. I don’t believe it’s good for the game.”
Denver is coming off of a top-five loss against top-ranked Duke University. The Pioneers blew a 12-8 lead entering the fourth quarter when Duke countered with a 7-0 run to secure the 15-12 victory. The game provided insight for even one of the most seasoned coaches.
“I really believe that I lost that game,” Tierney said. “Coaches lose games, players win them. What we didn’t do well were things that I should have done beforehand. During the game they were bad, but the key was game management. In the third quarter we were leading 12-8 against a really good team. I should have done a better job of getting the guys mentally prepared for what was going to happen.
It’s the second game of the year, hopefully, we will have a lot more games and learn from this. Had we won we wouldn’t even be talking about this. We’d be saying, ‘Oh, we’re 2-0 and aren’t we wonderful.’ But that’s not what sports and life is all about. We’re going to learn from this and I’m going to be a better coach from it.”
Cleveland State enters the matchup at 1-4, after stunning Southern Conference preseason favorite Air Force 8-7 on Friday, Feb. 23. Returning to Peter Barton serves as a homecoming for Sheridan.
“I love getting back to Peter Barton,” Sheridan said. “I always cheer for them. I want them to have the most successful season possible, except for when we play them.”
As for his players, Sheridan knows playing nationally ranked programs like Air Force and Denver within the span of three days is not only physically taxing, but mentally demanding.
“This trip out to Colorado is a bear,” Sheridan said. “I think if you ask any Division l coach that takes a trip out there they kind of know that and expect that. You’re going against two outstanding programs. For us, it really is an opportunity for us to bond as a team, compete against really good competition and hopefully grow as a result.”
The Pioneers and Vikings clash at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 24. Faceoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. MT.