Denver Pioneers lacrosse wins ncaa lax
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Interview: Dylan Sheridan of Denver University Lacrosse

We’ll be speaking with lots of college coaches this fall, and our newest interview is an exciting one with Dylan Sheridan, an experienced assistant coach for Bill Tierney and the University of Denver lacrosse program.  Denver made some really big strides in 2010 and burst onto the big time college lacrosse scene in a major way, so we talked with Coach Sheridan about how Denver can keep that momentum going, and even improve upon it.

You guys certainly surprised some people last year!  The team really came together on the field and made a great run into the NCAAs.  What was the attitude like at the end of the year?  Were guys happy to have made such big strides so quickly, or were guys still really disappointed, in spite of all their success?

Dylan Sheridan: It really was an incredible run.  I’d be lying if I said our guys weren’t disappointed with how it ended, but we tried to help them keep perspective.  There were so many firsts for DU lacrosse in 2011: hosting and winning the inaugural ECAC Tournament Championship, hosting and winning the first NCAA Tournament game west of the Mississippi, beating Johns Hopkins in the Quarterfinals and advancing to the Final Four.  We talked about these accomplishments, talked to the seniors about the significance of their role as alumni moving forward, and really made a point to the guys to cherish the memories and the bond with their teammates.

Denver Pioneers lacrosse wins over Hopkins ncaa lax
This was a BIG win for many reasons.

Is that same mindset and emotional state still there? Or has the team moved on fully to 2012?

Dylan Sheridan: We lost a great deal of experience to graduation. The leadership on last year’s team was incredible. Those kids had been through a lot during their careers at DU, and our success last season was a testament to their perseverance. Heading into year three of the Coach Tierney regime, the emotional state of our team is completely changed. High expectations are the norm; there is a standard of excellence in everything we do. We may be younger, and in many cases less inexperienced, but these guys are hungry, and want to prove they belong in the conversation with the other upper echelon teams.

In an interview on the DU site, coach Tierney mentioned a lot of walk-ons and transfers. Any hidden gems in the bunch so far? How hard is it keep momentum from last year while giving all these new guys a fair shot to show what they have to offer?

Dylan Sheridan: The landscape of the lacrosse world is changing so quickly. As the sport gains in popularity and so many kids are playing all over the country, the quality of play is getting better every year and the coaching continues to improve. There are more good players out there than ever before. Unfortunately, growth at the NCAA DI level is moving relatively slowly, which has really saturated the market for the student-athlete. It’s not unusual to hear about programs having huge numbers show up for tryouts. Our success at DU has attracted a huge amount of attention from recruits and walk-ons alike, which is great, but it puts us in a tough position too. The depth and level of competition in practice has been incredible, but it’s not realistic for us to accommodate all of the kids that want to play.

In terms of momentum, we play Harvard on Saturday, Oct. 8 in San Francisco, so we really can’t afford to waste time. You are going to see a lot of new faces as well as guys that didn’t play much last year making significant contributions on our team. They’ve worked hard, and we feel they’re ready to help us going forward.

Denver Pioneers lacrosse wins ncaa lax
DU wants more of this in 2012.

Along with the on-field success DU saw last year, it seems like the University and student body have really jumped on the DU lax bandwagon. Can lacrosse become “THE” sport at Denver? And does that thought even enter into the equation?

Dylan Sheridan: There has never been a better time to be a DU lacrosse fan. The City of Denver was voted the No. 1 lacrosse town by Inside Lacrosse. The program is thriving in every way possible: on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Our guys are good people. They genuinely want to make a positive impact, which I think has resonated with people. One of the coolest things about the run we made last season was how “Denver Lacrosse” seemed to catch fire. People from Seattle to South Florida jumped on board and made the whole experience so much more memorable.

As for Lacrosse becoming “THE” sport at Denver, I’m not sure that’s the goal. University of Denver Athletics has won the Directors Cup four years in a row, which is pretty remarkable. It really feels like every sport at DU is “THE” sport, which makes it an exciting atmosphere for students, staff and community members.

Partnering with Warrior means you’ll be wearing some of the most adventurous designs in college lacrosse. A lot of people have equated Oregon’s success to their wild uniforms, and the fact that it brings in recruits. Would this work in lacrosse? Has Denver benefitted from having things like two-tone helmets? Does it play into the overall plan? Or is that just for fun?

Dylan Sheridan: We are incredibly excited about our partnership with Warrior; they are without question the best in the business. Coach Tierney has cultivated such a great relationship with them over the years, and really deserves all of the credit for making it happen. What Warrior has planned for Denver Lacrosse is unprecedented in the lacrosse world. All of you gearheads out there…prepare to have your minds blown.

Denver Pioneers lacrosse wins ncaa lax
Last year’s look was pretty snazzy.

Do you think that more MCLA teams will eventually convince their school to do as Michigan has done, and elevate their team to NCAA D1 status? Along with Denver, Colorado, Colorado State, BYU, Arizona State and a bunch of the Cali schools would make for a great western lacrosse presence! How long until this becomes a reality?

Dylan Sheridan: This is a really interesting question; especially, considering the buzz about conference realignment right now. DI lacrosse clearly takes a backseat to Football and Basketball, but we feel the impact of these moves, with Syracuse more than likely joining the ACC. Optimistically, I think we all hope this puts pressure on the higher ups at some of these major schools to move toward adding lacrosse. The reality is Title IX and the current state of the economy are pretty serious obstacles. Coach John Paul worked his tail off at Michigan to get it done in Ann Arbor, but every school has a different set of variables, and even though it would be incredible, I don’t see many schools making the move in the near future.

Finally, how will Denver avoid a let-down this year? Expectations are high, and people will definitely be gunning for you. What’s different about 2012 in that respect?

Dylan Sheridan: We have definitely moved into the role of the hunted. Two consecutive undefeated ECAC seasons puts a sizable target on your back. As coaches, we are very aware of that fact, as well as what can happen to a team of college kids if you allow slippage. Fortunately, the change in culture within our program has kept our guys pretty grounded. The difference in 2012 is DU lacrosse players arrive on campus with National Championship aspirations and the willingness to prepare to achieve their goals. Is that enough? I believe there is enough talent on the team to avoid a letdown. It’s up to us as coaches to prepare the guys well enough to erase any doubts.

All photos courtesy Trish Demopolous of DU Athletics

A little bonus highlight video of Denver from 2011…