January 25, 2013

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#LMranks: No. 6 Denver Pioneers (Men)

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Team Page/Schedule


A big contributor as a freshman midfielder with 26 goals and 11 assists, watch for Wes Berg on attack in 2013.
© Trevor Brown

Lacrosse Magazine is counting down its preseason rankings throughout the month of January exclusively on LaxMagazine.com.

Today continues a look at our NCAA Division I Top 20 rankings. For more, visit LaxMagazine.com/LMranks. Follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #LMranks. The countdown will resume Monday with profiles of the fifth-ranked teams in NCAA Division I men and women.

Power Ratings

Offense: 4*
Defense: 3
Goalkeeping: 4
Faceoff: 5
*Out of 5

Top Returner

M Jeremy Noble (Jr.)
Among the nation's top scoring threats out of the midfield, Noble is a hyper-skilled, right-handed pitbull with dish-and-dump ability. The versatile two-way threat also contributes on the defensive end. "He's one of the best competitors I've ever coached," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "Jeremy is so self-discerning, whether it has 10 points or 0 points."

X-Factor

A Wes Berg (So.)
A big-time contributor on the second-line midfield as a freshman, Berg should bump down to attack this year. The Canadian U-19 teamer is too talented to keep off the field. "What Wesley does makes our opponents have to pay attention to a kid like him, kind of like they did Mark Matthews," Tierney said.

What's New?

Toe-dragging sensation Mark Matthews, the face of the Pioneers' program for the last four years, no longer holds down the lefty attack spot. The void likely will be filled by a pair of physical freshmen: 6-foot-2, Baltimore bred Gordie Koerber and Long Island's Tom Moore, who's 6-foot-3.

What's Not?

One year after turning over its entire defense, Denver returns virtually everyone — all three starters at close and two defensive midfielders, including athletic short-stick Terry Ellis. "They've got a year under their belts, and it's nice to know you're doing it with more experienced guys," Tierney said.

2012 Recap

#LMranks MD1 Preseason Countdown

No. 20 Bryant
No. 19 Hofstra
No. 18 Fairfield
No. 17 Villanova
No. 16 Yale
No. 15 Princeton
No. 14 Penn State
No. 13 UMass
No. 12 Syracuse

No. 11 Colgate
Monday: No. 10 Lehigh
Tuesday: No. 9 Virginia
Wednesday: No. 8 North Carolina
Thursday: No. 7 Cornell
Friday:
No. 6 Denver

More: Countdown schedule | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3 | JuCo | MCLA | WCLA

Record: 9-7 (3-3 ECAC)

In a Nutshell: Expectations were high after the Pioneers gave Team USA a run for its money in the Champion Challenge exhibition, but back in Florida three weeks later Denver lost its season-opener to Ohio State after the Buckeyes stalled in the second half. Back-to-back one-goal Spring Break losses to Cornell and Notre Dame were tough to swallow, as goalie and Lacrosse Magazine cover subject Jamie Faus sustained a season-ending Achilles tear. Freshman Ryan LaPlante performed well in Faus' absence, though Denver continued losing one-goal games, including two to eventual national champion Loyola — the second of which came in the NCAA quarterfinals, 10-9. "We feel like the ending to the season was a justified one," Tierney said. "We felt great about the Carolina win [in the first round of the NCAA tournament], and honestly, we felt like we lost to the best team in the country by one goal twice, and two goals once."

High Point: Denver's 16-14 tournament defeat of North Carolina was arguably the season's most exciting game, and not many prognosticators gave the Pioneers a chance against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. More significant, however, was Denver's 15-9 upset of then-No. 1 Duke in the Mile High Classic. Sure, coach John Danowski didn't start his regulars for the opening minutes, but the victory essentially clinched the Pioneers postseason berth.

Low Point: Denver's overtime loss to Loyola in the ECAC tournament might have been the most painful of three trip-ups against its conference rival. The Pioneers mounted a seven-goal second-half rally to force an extra session, but Scott Ratliff scored eight seconds into overtime to knot the victory. An upset of Loyola (following the Duke win) likely would have secured an easier first- and second-round matchup for Denver, which drew a tough postseason docket.

2013 Preview

Best Case: The Pioneers don't miss a beat offensively without Mark Matthews, as the offense runs through Jeremy Noble and Wes Berg finds a home at attack, while the defense improves in its second year as starters. Denver takes the ECAC title, then cracks the Memorial Day code, as Tierney wins his seventh national title.

Worst Case: Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante battle for the goalie spot, but neither wins it outright. A challenging early-season nonconference slate puts the Pioneers in an early hole, and they go .500 against ECAC opponents. Denver makes the NCAA tournament on its strength of schedule and a quality win over Duke, but it gets eliminated in the first round.

Inside Scoop

Coach Bill Tierney's comments on...

A Gordie Koerber (Fr.)
"Gordie brings a lacrosse IQ that I rate up there with Kevin Lowe, John Hess and Ryan Boyle, and Gordie has that IQ. Eric Law has that as well. With Gordie, you've got a freshman, and you're going to have freshman mistakes, but you've got a kid who's been through some fires, and he has been coached by some great people. He just brings a special talent to the game above and beyond the fact that he can throw the ball in the goal."

M Cam Flint (Sr.)
"Cam is one of the most courageous players I've ever coached, and he's been banged up for two years. We still haven't seen the Cam that played in his freshman year. He's back to healthy again now, and we're really excited about that, because he is the powerful force behind our midfield."

D Carson Cannon (So.)
"Carson is our force back there. He's a guy who can cover the team's best attackman. He's a guy who is just quietly, to me, once of the best defenseman out there. He made his mark as a freshman, and that's a great benefit that he's got a year under his belt now. He'll go second time around, covering some of the better attackmen, and we'll be better for it. He's certainly a guy who's got an unpredictably high level in his future. He can be one of the all-time greats. My defensemen over the years have suffered with national recognition because of our style, they're not fancy guys, but I think by the end of his career, he should be one of the best I've ever coached."

Rival Coaches Say

"Best midfield in the country, including faceoff unit. Dynamic offense still despite loss of Matthews and others. Noble, Law, Berg, Flint, Carraro is a good starting point... This is a team I think plenty of people are sleeping on. Losing Matthews and Demopolous is a big loss, no question, but there is plenty of talent still there from a team that was one goal and about five more minutes away from being in the final four again... Carraro probably should have been last year's first-team All-American at the faceoff X after he beat Keenan easily in the NCAA first round. Defense was young last year and coach Tierney is usually always good developing them... Which goalie plays? Both are talented which can either be a good thing or become a distraction... Even with the loss of Mark Mathews, I think the system that Coach T has in place is sustainable at the highest level. He has a unique mix of creativity on offense and discipline on defense to compete with anyone."


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