Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 26
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
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(Photo by John Babb, Courtesy of DU Athletics)

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: University of Denver men’s lacrosse assistant coach Trevor Tierney, left, instructs his players this spring as father and head coach Bill Tierney looks on. The younger Tierney enjoyed being on the coaching side of a Final 4 run as Denver made an historic trip to the NCAA semis this spring.

Working on Father’s Staff for Denver Men’s Lax Tierney Saw Different Side of Final 4 Journey

Bill Alden

While Trevor Tierney was enjoying his role as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse two summers ago, he was thinking about taking a shot at college coaching.

“I had been looking into opportunities; I interviewed for the Duke assistant job with coach Danowski,” said Tierney, a former All-American goalie at Princeton who helped the Tigers to the national title in 2001 before winning a world title with the U.S. in 2002 and then earning a Major League Lacrosse title with the Baltimore Bayhawks in 2005.

“I really liked it there but I didn’t want to leave Denver. I was looking for the right opportunity.”

Opportunity came knocking for Tierney in a wild week in June 2009 when his father, Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney, left Princeton to take the helm at the University of Denver.

One of dad’s first moves was to add son Trevor to his staff as first assistant. While the younger Tierney was happy for the chance to make the move to college coaching, he knew the situation involved an extra layer of pressure.

“I have been around that, having played for him,” said Tierney. “I know the strength he brings; it can be intimidating for any assistant. There is a lot to live up to.”

The staff, which also included carry-over assistant coach and former Denver star Matt Brown, came together seamlessly.

“Matt took the offense and I handled the defense and coach was the captain,” said Tierney. “We worked well together. Coach gives his assistants a lot of room.”

It took a little longer for the players to get on the same page. “Denver had been haphazard, playing a high risk defense opposite of the defense my father and I think is the right way to play the game,” explained Tierney.

“We had to make major adjustments. We had a couple of tough early losses. By the middle of 2010, the defense was coming together.”

Things came together well this spring as the Pioneers climbed up the Top 10 in the national polls during the regular season and then made an historic run to the NCAA Final 4 in May, becoming the first program located west of the Mississippi River to advance to the national semis.

“We were in a good position coming into this year,” said Tierney, noting that the Pioneers came close to making the NCAA quarters in 2010, losing a tight first round contest to Stony Brook.

“Being around coach and from my playing days at Princeton, playing for a national title is what you expect. We told these guys that was an attainable goal but there was a lot of work to do.”

That good work came to fruition in early April when Denver posted its most impressive win of the regular season in topping No. 4 Duke 12-9.

“I think the guys were fed up with being the team that comes close and is the cute underdog,” said Tierney.

“It was like Princeton basketball before it beat UCLA. It was a major turning point. It catapulted us up the national polls and got us a good seed which helped us get the home game in the tournament.”

The Pioneers had a good time as hosts, topping Villanova 13-10 in the NCAA opener before a record crowd of 2,575 fans at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

“That was a really cool thing,” said Tierney. “We are in a big city but there is a small town feel. I saw that when I was playing for the Outlaws; if you are doing well, the fans really get behind you. The major news channels in town all came out here for stories.”

A week later, Denver wrote a major story, upsetting perennial power Johns Hopkins to advance to the NCAA semis.

“That was an amazing win; not many people thought we could beat Hopkins,” said Tierney.

“Hopkins is well coached, they are always a tough team to play. We thought we matched up well. It was just one of those day where we executed almost flawlessly. It was a players’ win. I was really impressed with the guys. I was extremely proud, tears welled up for me at the end.”

While Denver’s trip to the Final 4 disrupted Tierney’s plans to reconnect with his Princeton past, he wasn’t upset.

“It was the weekend of my 10th reunion at Princeton and the 10th reunion of our national title,” said Tierney. “I never registered for the reunion. I was happy to have the chance to go to Baltimore and be at the game.”

Things didn’t go as well in Baltimore as Denver lost 14-8 to eventual national champion Virginia in the national semis.

“I don’t think we played our best and UVa overwhelmed us with their athleticism,” said Tierney.

“Virginia had been to the Final 4 the last four years and that’s how long it took them to win the national title. Playing in the Final 4 is different than anything else you experience as a player. We learned a lot; there is no question we can be in there.”

Tierney learned some important lessons about coaching from being on that side of a run to the Final 4.

“It is such a different experience coaching than playing,” said Tierney. “As a player, you get an ego boost and you are proud of your achievement. As a coach, you are incredibly proud for your guys. You are proud of how hard they worked to get there.”

Going forward, Tierney is going to fine-tune his work at coaching as he will serve as the volunteer coach rather than first assistant.

“I like coaching and being out there with the guys,” said Tierney. “But if you want to be a head coach, it is 365 days a year. I have too many other interests that I want to pursue. I will still coach goalies and help with the defense.”

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