Legendary Coach Tierney Enjoys Homecoming But PU Men’s Lax Spoils Return by Edging Denver
RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Bill Tierney stalks the sidelines last week as he guided his Denver University men’s lacrosse team against Princeton. It marked the return of the legendary former Tiger head coach for his first game at Class of 1952 Stadium since he left the Tiger program in 2009 after 22 seasons and six NCAA titles. Princeton, though, made it a tough homecoming for Tierney, pulling out a 14-13 win over the ninth-ranked Pioneers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Bill Tierney didn’t get the chance to hone in on his Denver University men’s lacrosse team as it went through its pregame paces before its contest at Princeton last week.
With legendary former Princeton head coach Tierney returning on March 26 for his first game at Class of 1952 Stadium since he left the program in 2009 after guiding the Tigers to six NCAA titles in 22 seasons, the warmup turned into an extended meet and greet session.
Wearing a crimson and white Denver ball cap and Oakley sunglasses, the silver haired Tierney, 66, grinned broadly as he chatted with former colleagues on the field, shook hands with old friends, and responded to well wishes shouted from supporters in the stands.
Before the opening face-off, there was a special introduction involving Princeton Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan and former player Ed Calkins ’92, a member of Tierney’s first national championships squad, which detailed some of the Hall of Fame coach’s achievements while leading the Tigers, including 10 Final 4 appearances and 14 Ivy titles in addition to the six national crowns.
Tierney was touched by all the attention and the kind words. “It was very nice,” said Tierney, whose sons Brendan and Trevor played for him at Princeton on national championship teams.
“It was wonderful of Princeton how I have been treated by everybody. The way Matt [Princeton head coach Matt Madalon] handled this whole situation was first class.”
The glow, though, didn’t last long after the opening face-off. “It was good to be back, once the game started, it was no different than any other game,” said Tierney, who guided Denver to the national title in 2015, becoming the only coach to lead two different lax programs to NCAA crowns. “They score a goal in 45 seconds, you could tell it was going to be a long night then.”
It turned out to be an exciting night for Princeton as it pulled out a 14-13 thriller over the ninth-ranked Pioneers.
Princeton junior attackman Philip Robertson acknowledged that the Tigers were fired up to test themselves against Tierney.
“It was definitely a special game; Coach T is a legendary coach and he builds fantastic programs,” said Robertson.
“Any time you can go up against a ranked opponent like Denver, it is a big game. It was Tuesday night under the lights and we were real excited, especially coming off of a tough loss to Yale (14-10 on March 23). We were ready.
The Princeton attack was relentless on the evening, firing 41 shots with 25 on goal.
“Everyone felt a little light on their feet,” added Robertson. “We were hungry; we knew that we had to get more shots on cage, do a little bit better shooting and attack a little more aggressively. I felt like we played faster tonight, we played great as a team.”
While Robertson misfired on some first half opportunities, he came through down the stretch, scoring late in the third quarter and early in the fourth as Princeton broke a 10-10 tie to go up 12-10 and never gave up the lead after that,
“It is frustrating sometimes, but you have got to forget and just move forward,” said Robertson.
“We did a great job moving as a unit and it really helped get everybody open. Any time that we can get everyone involved, it gets everyone excited with that electric feeling.”
Princeton head coach Matt Madalon felt good about how his team kept its focus in the face of the hoopla surrounding Tierney’s return.
“Our guys really try to make it about us even with as much as hype as there was about this game,” said Madalon.
“Coach T is an incredible man and an incredible coach, but they knew that they needed to keep practicing and training and doing whatever they could to get the win. I am proud of these guys. It was a gutty win.”
Coming into the evening mired in a three-game losing streak, Princeton badly needed the victory over the Pioneers.
“We talk about the process over and over,” said Madalon. “It is very nice for them to be rewarded with a win because over the last couple weeks, we as a coaching staff have known they are getting better but it is tough for young guys to understand that until they get back in the win column.”
Knowing the pedigree of the Princeton players and the program he played such a key role in building, Tierney sensed that the Tigers would rise to the occasion.
“We missed a lot of shots; they are tough to cover,” said Tierney, who earned the 400th victory of his storied career when Denver defeated Georgetown 16-9 last Saturday.
“Sowers is tough and they have three or four offense players who are really quick and took advantage of what we were trying to do and scored one more goal than we did. I think they were a really good 2-5 team that didn’t deserve to be 2-5. When you have all of these games where you lose at the end, eventually it is going to flip your way. We won one the other day (7-6 over Towson on March 23) and today it flips the other way.”