Denver-Ohio State: Pioneers look to regroup and refine for success going forward

Photo courtesy of the NCAA

The Ohio State Buckeyes handed the University of Denver Pioneers one of their worst losses in program history last season. The Buckeyes knocked Denver off of it’s then, top-national rank with the merciless 16-7 result.

“They crushed us,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “We didn’t make any kind of comeback and they are capable of doing that. They’ve had some tough breaks lately. They lost to Towson [on March 10] 7-6, but outshot them 40-19.”

Ohio State would go onto Championship Weekend and advanced to the national title match. The Buckeyes lost to Maryland 9-6, who had edged DU 9-8 in the semifinal game to advance.

The programs will square off on Saturday, March 17 at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Both teams are coming off of tough losses during the 2018 season.

[18/19] Ohio (5-2, 0-0 Big Ten) dropped overtime losses 8-7 to Marquette and 7-6 Towson. [6/5] Denver (4-2, 0-0 BIG EAST) suffered losses 15-12 to Duke and 11-9 to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Pioneers’ most recent loss to Notre Dame exposed apparent struggles with consistency, poor execution and energy from the opening faceoff. The Fighting Irish stunned DU with a 6-1 lead through the first 15-minutes of play.

“I take the blame for that,” Tierney said. “I didn’t have the guys emotionally ready for the start of that game and Notre Dame was. We made two terrible mistakes early. Notre Dame took advantage of two defensive mistakes that we don’t normally make. Then, we flip one in our own goal you feel like everything is tumbling down on you. Once the quarter ended and we were able to regroup, we were great after that.”

While Denver’s two losses of the 2018 campaign were against top-ranked opponents, the Pioneers are realizing how vital every element of each tedious minute per game is.

“I feel like that we have lost two games now,” DU offensive coach Matt Brown said. “I don’t feel like either of those teams were drastically better than us, they were on that day. Duke in the last quarter and Notre Dame in the first quarter. We need to focus on being our best for 60-minutes.”

The Pioneers boast one of the most challenging schedules in the nation. While they pride themselves on the caliber of their competition they face, the magnitude of each game has been pronounced.

“The trouble with lacrosse is, it’s not like hockey where you have 30-40 games. Those kind of opportunities are far and few between,” Tierney said. “To not take advantage of them goes down as a loss of 13 games and that makes it hard. Now we have two [losses] with a really tough schedule this year. It’s not like we can look at this schedule and say, ‘Oh we’ll win all of our league games.’ We can’t say that anymore.”

Denver was without junior midfielder Colton Jackson during the western rivalry against Notre Dame. Jackson is out with an upper-body injury and his return remains up in the air. As a result, Johns Hopkins junior transfer Drew Supinski, joined the starting midfield line.

Supinski’s finesse compliments the Pioneers dynamic offense, but the void of Jackson’s powerful presence was noticeable.

“They are two totally different players,” Brown said. “I think Drew is bringing something totally different to our program, which is his ability to feed the ball from the midfield. Whereas, Colton is a thoroughbred. He’s going to run right by you, hammer the ball with his feet set and hammer the ball with his feet on the move. They’re totally two different guys. No question did it hurt us not having Colton healthy, but Drew played well. I did think that all of our guys could have been better across the board.”

The coaching staff has reflected on the costly mistakes that have surfaced over the past couple of games and are implementing actions to prevent the weaknesses from becoming irreversible patterns.

The starting goalie position will be determined during this week of practice, either junior Alex Ready will retain his spot between the pipes or sophomore Josh Matte will receive the nod.

Supinski will maintain the position in the top-midfield line, but Denver’s midfield depth is extensive and elaborately skilled to incorporate others come Saturday..  

“It’s a matter of who is going to step up, who is going to contribute and who is the next man up,” Brown said. “We have enough guys with really good talent. We have enough guys with good athletic talent. We have enough guys that can do this thing and they have proven to us in practice that they can do it. It’s just who is going to do it on Saturdays.”

The Buckeyes have lost two games in overtime, but have an edge on Denver given last season’s decisive result. Saturday will certainly be a clash between two disciplined and accomplished programs; urgency and desire will factor into which team emerges victorious.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Brown said. “As crazy as that sounds. If you look at the rankings we’re still in the top-10, but we have two losses. We’ve played poorly for two quarters now. You look at Ohio State who is coming off of a loss and is really hungry and talented. They handed us one of our worst losses in program history last season. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself. It’s back to working hard and being sharper. Our guys have a huge challenge in front of them.”

Faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. MT. The game is availbe to stream on Altitutde.