by Matt Breen
In just seven minutes, his team trailed by seven goals. But the coach's plan was working just fine.
It was Bill Tierney's first game as coach at the University of Denver in 2010. He wanted the Pioneers to get a taste of big-time college lacrosse and they opened the season with a 15-9 loss at Syracuse's Carrier Dome.
The freshmen who were on that Denver team are now seniors. On Saturday, the fourth-seeded Pioneers (14-4) will have a chance to show how far they have come when they meet No. 1 Syracuse (15-3) in the semifinals of the NCAA lacrosse tournament at Lincoln Financial Field.
"They feel that they were given a great opportunity by Syracuse to let us come to the dome and find out what it was all about," Tierney said.
After accepting the Denver job in 2009, Tierney called Orange coach John Desko and told him the Pioneers needed to know what it was like to be a championship team. There's no more daunting task than the Carrier Dome, Tierney told Desko.
Cameron Flint was the lone freshman to score that day, and on Saturday he will be leading the charge. The senior midfielder from Canada has 36 goals and 14 assists this season. He had three assists in the team's 12-11 quarterfinal win over North Carolina.
Midfielder Wesley Berg a sophomore, has 56 goals and 16 assists for the Pioneers this season. Eric Law, a senior attack, has a team-high 75 points. He scored three times in the quarterfinal win to help Denver erase an early five-goal deficit.
"We talk about playing the game fast but playing it smart as well," Tierney said. "Our guys take great pride in that."
Tierney coached 22 seasons at Princeton and returns to Philadelphia 21 years after capturing his first title with the Tigers at Franklin Field. The main difference this time will be the color of his hat, he said. The Hall of Fame coach won six NCAA championships at Princeton and this is his second final four with Denver.
"We're getting there," Tierney said.