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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Denver: Lacrosse's Western Mecca?

It's certainly starting to look as though Denver is the western answer to all things lacrosse. Both the MLL's Denver Outlaws and the NLL's Colorado Mammoth are top draws in their respective leagues. Denver and nearby Colorado Springs are home to the only two Division I lacrosse programs west of the Mississippi. And now, lacrosse Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney is headed to the head coaching position at the University of Denver.

First, I'm gonna need some help here from folks far dedicated to their craft than I: I'm a sports fan but have never claimed to be a sports historian. But can you think of another time when a head coach, still in the prime of his career, has up and left a national power in a particular sport while still excelling, to immediately take a position at a decidedly lesser school? With all due respect to the University of Denver, they can't restring Princeton's lacrosse sticks, let alone compete on the national landscape with them. But perhaps it was the lure of being a Pioneer, in more ways than one, that excited Coach Tierney. 

Consider this: To be an elite program in lacrosse is to be a national power in a subnational sport. As I mentioned before, there are only two DI programs west of the Mississippi. Add to that the four or five schools that can reasonably be considered "southern" and the three in the midwest, and it becomes very clear that while lacrosse is becoming an increasingly national sport, big time college lacrosse still resides in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. What does this mean for Tierney? The west is largely his for the fleecing. Not unlike the days when the Washington Redskins were the South's team for lack of a better option, Denver with Tierney at the helm has the chance at becoming an immediately competitive team and perhaps the answer to all things lacrosse. While there's arguably a higher level of talent back East, with the entire West at his disposal, there are bound to be some diamonds in the rough. If western lacrosse kids didn't grow up following lacrosse religiously--many are converts from other sports--they may not know that their "supposed" to aspire to Hopkins or Syracuse. And Denver as a city isn't a hard sell, particularly when alternatives are thousands of miles away. Plus, Tierney still has the street cred to walk into living rooms in Baltimore and New York. And perhaps as important as anything else, leaving the Ivy League means that Tierney can get at some early commits that weren't an option to him in the Ivies. He'll also have access to kids who "struggle" (read: aren't Princeton material) academically.

Not to overstate it, but this move could be the be monumental to the expansion of lacrosse. It could also prove to be a mistake on Tierney's part. We'll just have to see...
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