The stern barking echoing off Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium comes from players and coaches alike. In a way it has set the theme for the start of practice. You could argue that the theme would be adjusting—as in the players adjusting to a new coaching staff and the coaches adjusting to the Denver players. But the barking represents what head coach Bill Tierney describes as a “business-like attitude.” The adjusting period has already happened and now the position battles have begun.
Fresh face at the Face-off X
When Chase Carraro was being scouted and recruited, it wasn’t by a 6-time NCAA championship coach. Former Pioneer coach Jamie Munro brought the Kentucky native to Denver because of his impressive high school resume which includes: two state titles, two all-state nominations, two All-American selections and an MVP of the West Team at the Senior Showcase Tournament in Providence, R.I.
But how sold would coach Tierney be on the 5’8” middie?
“I was really nervous at first,” said Carraro. “Everything was up in the air at first but coach Tierney has really blown me away.”
Clearly Tierney has liked what he’s seen as well. The freshman will have the responsibility of getting the Pioneers possession of the ball.
Carraro will be replacing Ben Wahler (due to graduation) and he’s got some big shoes to fill. Wahler won 58 percent of his faceoffs last season and was ranked in the top 15 in ground balls per game.
However, their styles are very similar. Both have smaller frames and use their quickness to beat opponents. The area where they’re different should benefit the Pioneers this season: offense.
“Ben would take the faceoffs and run off the field,” explained Carraro. “I’m more of an offensive player and I want to help the team on the offensive side of the field.”
As a freshman, Mark Mathews was impressive. He was second on the team in points with 33 (24g, 9a) and will be the leader on offense again as a sophomore. The 6’4” star looked great in practice recently and it took all of about 15 minutes for his stick skills to really stick out.
Junior Todd Baxter will be his right hand man. The former Fairfield University transfer had 15 goals and 6 assists but will likely top those stats this year. Sophomore Alex Demopoulos should round out the first line after nine starts from a season ago. He tallied 11 points on eight goals and three assists. The offense is probably the area coach Tierney is most impressed with.
“We’re much better [offensively] than I had thought after watching the guys in the fall.”
Changes on Defense
Coach Tierney is quick to point out how talented and athletic his defense is but he’s also quick to point out how they’re the big concern heading into the season. It’s ironic because the “rock” of his team, Dillon Roy, anchors the defense. But of course it’s not the leadership or the talent that he’s worried about. Rather it’s the fact that they need to play as one. Roy seconds that notion.
“We need to play more controlled as a unit,” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest change. Last year we got away with playing based on our athletic ability.”
Tierney sees that as a double bonus.
“You combine their athleticism with the fact that they’ll be asked to play more as a unit and you have a very good situation on defense.”
It’s up to the head coaches’ son, Trevor Tierney to make sure that happens.
“Already they’ve done a good job of simplifying things for us,” said Roy. “We’ve got a lot to prove but at the same time we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Between the Pipes
If the season started today, senior Peter Lowell would get the nod. But coach explained that it’s really a three-man race. Sophomores Troy Orzech and Zander Buteux may have the opportunity to close the gap. That’s something to keep an eye on as the season approaches.
Team as a Whole
It’s hard to bet against a Tierney-coached team. Even more, he already likes what he sees in his squad. The Pioneers will improve on their 2009 record (7-8) and it starts with arguably the biggest game of their college careers when they head to Syracuse to take on the Orange, February 19.
“All I asked the team to do when we played the [MLL’s Denver] Outlaws in the October scrimmage was to compete, and they did,” said Tierney. “We’ll ask the team to do the same thing for that game.”
Coach already has stated he couldn’t have asked for a better start. We’ll see if he’s saying the same thing come February.