BIG EAST Flameout Extinguishes Season for Denver Men’s Lacrosse

It was a forgettable season for DU men’s lacrosse (9-6, 4-1 BIG EAST) as they skidded to an unremarkable close Friday afternoon against Villanova in the BIG EAST Tournament semifinals. The 15-14 defeat defied the saying, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The game really wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate as another conference tournament collapse brought DU’s season to an end.

Since the national championship season in 2015, Denver has been bounced out of the conference tournament every season. Marquette eliminated Denver in 2016 and 2017. Georgetown defeated Denver 2018 through 2021, only interrupted by the 2020 COVID shortened season. Now, Villanova eliminated Denver in what is becoming an alarming trend. As invincible as Denver has been during recent BIG EAST regular seasons, the Pioneers have struggled down the stretch, especially in the shot-clock era.

A 5-0 run in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s game gave the Pios a fighting chance in the closing minutes but Denver’s fate was all but sealed early when they fell behind 11-7 at halftime. Denver could neither stop the surging Wildcats nor could they counter Villanova’s timely goals. Denver could only muster one goal in the third and trailed by five goals heading into the final 15 minutes. Denver’s fourth-quarter five-goal run pulled the Pioneers within one goal, 14-13, and DU won the ensuing faceoff. However, a critical turnover at 1:11 virtually ended DU’s chances.  Villanova countered with a goal nearly a minute later to build an insurmountable two-goal lead with 20 seconds left. Game. Set. Match.

Alex Simmons had 6 goals and an assist for Denver and Jack Hannah had 3 goals and an assist in the losing effort. Matt Campbell led the Wildcats with 5 tallies.

This game was a perfect microcosm of Denver’s season. Their margin of error was slim all season long. Ground balls, turnovers, spotty goaltending and long scoring droughts haunted the Pioneers throughout the year. Perhaps it was an overall talent deficit versus past seasons. Maybe it was coaching as this team looked more mechanical than many of Denver’s past teams. Maybe it was not having creative scorer(s) to compliment Jack Hannah when the shot clock was running down.

Finally, though, it was apparent at most games that the opponent’s benches were showing energy during games while DU looked like they were on a business trip. Was Denver afraid of making mistakes or just plain worn out? We don’t know the exact answer to any of this but recent flameouts in BIG EAST tournaments will require some retooling and soul-searching by staff and program that knows what great looks like.

Denver has invested big in lacrosse and recent results are clearly below expectations for a program that is getting further and further away from the glory days of 2015.

Photo: Villanova Athletics

9 thoughts on “BIG EAST Flameout Extinguishes Season for Denver Men’s Lacrosse”

  1. This was the worst season finish in the Tierney era, and coach T told Inside Lacrosse magazine yesterday:

    “I didn’t have them ready to play at the start,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said afterward. “The game always comes down to groundballs and emotion. You saw what happened at the end, when we started getting desperate. We started playing the way we should have played the whole time. … We never got into a flow, credit Villanova for that. They played very well tonight.”

    I think our coach is falling on his sword for his guys. Coach T, as the greatest coach the game has ever seen, certainly knows how to get his team ready.

    The bigger question is: Why was this team not desperate? They were playing for their season, win or go home?

    Desperation is one thing, talent is another.

    Seven years ago, DU was getting ‘hidden’ talent from all over the country and Canada, because most teams were recruiting mostly Northeastern US talent. Today, the rest of the lax world has caught up to DU, and rosters all around the country are now more diverse.

    We cannot expect DU to be an elite program. Maybe a top 20-ish program but no longer a top 5 program…

  2. This men’s lax program seems to be in a odd state of flux/transition. There is a legendary coach at the helm, presumably access to top-notch talent, nice facilities, and a winning tradition, but the results from the last several years have been uneven and unsatisfying. And the NC from 2015 seems like eons ago. I just wonder is it simply a matter of DU losing out on top recruits more frequently now? Or is there more to it?

    1. Do we have a lax recruiting guru on this blog? Are we landing 5 star or even 4 star recruits?How are our incoming recruiting classes sizing up?

      1. According to Inside Lacrosse, DU has four 4-stars and three 3-stars coming next season. No five star recruits. Nice but not great. Duke has one 5-star and seven 4-star. Georgetown has two 5-star and five 4-star. Maryland has three 5-star and seven 4-star. North Carolina has three 5-star and four 4-star. Notre Dame has one 5-star and eight 4-star. Villanova has seven 4-stars. Virginia has four 5-star and four 4-star. DU is not recruiting at an elite level if the ratings are to be believed.

  3. Thanks 5B! I wonder how our recruiting classes stacked up historically? Are we missing out more recently?Hmmmm….

  4. I’m a former DU player and captain, not of the Tierney era. I’ve watched this team closely for the past 15 years. We’re not getting the recruits but, that’s not all. When the shot clock was introduced, it looked like DU was not playing the same game as their opponents. That’s a coaching problem. Because of the shot clock, teams like Maryland, Virginia, Penn, Georgetown and others are “running and gunning.” One, because they have the right players and two, because it works. DU, although they’ve improved a bit, are all in on a two man game and working the ball around and around and around. Although Hannah was a great dodger, most of the other players tended simply to pass and not press the defenses. Maryland presses and wins. Follow the leader!

  5. 18 in red: We always, always appreciate when DU student athletes, from any era, share their thoughts in our comments section. Your experience in your sport at our school gives you a very unique vantage point. Please share here more often – you make us all better fans!

  6. I remember when Kessenich and Carc used to gush about the way Denver moved the ball around in the painfully deliberate offense. I would scream at the tv when DU would not push the pace, especially in an unsettled situation. Love the run and gun concept especially at altitude. Tierney/Brown need to go full on Jack Westhead(hoops analogy) tempo!

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