A Western Rivalry Rekindled: Denver & Notre Dame to write next postseason chapter

There’s history, there’s proximity, and there’s emotion. It’s more than fitting that the University of Denver Pioneers and No. 7-seeded University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish would cross paths in First Round of the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament to only deepen the storied, westernmost rivalry.By the numbers, five of the past nine meetings between the two programs have required overtime. Seven of the past ten games were decided by just one goal. To add to the feud, Notre Dame’s 2017 season ended harshly, 16-4, at the hands of the Pioneers in the Quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA tournament. The Fighting Irish have earned the upper hand so far this time around, as they handed Denver its second loss of the regular 2018 season.

To say the least, the atmosphere will be hostile as the respected and renowned programs clash this Sunday, May 13 in South Bend, Ind.

“We feel good about the fact that we know this team,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “We feel good about the fact that we played them for three quarters really well at their place back in March. The things we’re concerned about is that we’re coming off of a loss and they’re coming off of three big wins.”

Denver (12-3, 5-0 BIG EAST) is coming off a bothersome 8-3 loss in the BIG EAST championship against Georgetown University. Georgetown goalie Nick Marrocco was superb in denying Denver’s explosive offense and stoning impact players like Ethan Walker, Austin French, and Colton Jackson. Marrocco made 14 saves in the upset.

“We just couldn’t break the ice,” Tierney said. “We just couldn’t get by the kid and credit to him. It makes moving on a lot easier because when you lose a game like that you start questioning everything. ‘What did we do wrong? Could we have held them to five? Could we have scored more? Did we do the right thing in transition?’ There are a million different things that we asked ourselves. When you move on from something you need to make it as simple as possible. We didn’t play our best that’s for sure — but give credit where credit is due to the Georgetown goalie. He was fabulous.”

Up until the Georgetown upset, the Pioneers had been excellent. A synchronized defense backed by sufficient goaltending, the best faceoff specialist in the country, versatility dispersed throughout a dynamic offense — really only two poor quarters of lacrosse cost Denver a perfect regular season record.

A shutout fourth quarter against Duke resulted in a 15-12 comeback victory for the Blue Devils back in February. A few weeks later on March 10, a quiet first quarter cost Denver the 11-9 loss against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame (9-5, 1-3 ACC) enters the matchup hot off of three tremendous wins against No. 4-seeded Duke, Virginia, and Army West Point. The Fighting Irish are flourishing on offense with the recent returns of Brendan Gleason and Bryan Costabile in the midfield.

“You feel like as a good team that has been in nine-straight NCAA tournaments, five Final Fours that you deserve a better fate in the First Round,” Tierney said. “But we earned this by not beating Georgetown. They’re all tough draws. There are no easy games. If we were playing Duke, if we were playing Hopkins, or playing Albany, or Loyola or playing Maryland we’d be saying, “Wow this is a tough draw.’ And that’s what we’re saying now. At least it’s a shorter flight and we know this team well. We know our guys have played them in the past and had some success. They beat us this last time so there are some mixed things, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Advancing to the Quarterfinals is not in any way out of the picture for the Pioneers. A trip to Hempstead, N.Y. is feasible when they play to their strengths. Denver has crafted the formula for success, it’s just a matter of implementing the tactics at every opportunity in every position. Losing the grasp of a game’s pulse has hurt Denver at times, but playing with their tenacious defense, maintaining a 50% save percentage in goal, dominating the X and utilizing the extensive depth on offense — this team is a force to be reckoned with.

Faceoff is scheduled for 12:15 pm MT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.