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Men's Lacrosse: Irish fall to eventual National Champion Denver; Season Review/Outlook

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The Irish fell yet again in OT to the Pioneers but things are looking bright for the Irish in 2016.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The quest for the Notre Dame Men's Lacrosse team to get back to the National Championship game fell just one game short, as the Irish fell to eventual-Champion Denver in Overtime, 11-10.

Instead of going in-depth into the game, I'm gonna list some thoughts on the season and beyond:

It was a milestone season

And what a season it was. The Irish lost only three games, two of them in Overtime to Denver. They won 12 games, including a dramatic win over then #1 Syracuse. The Irish were #1 for a solid month of play leading into the ACC tournament before an unexpected slip against Duke. Notre Dame had honors across the board, including USILA First Team awards to Matt Landis, Matt Kavanagh and Sergio Perkovic. Landis was named the Top Defender by the USILA as well. The Irish were solid across the board and established themselves as one of the elite teams in the country, likely for the foreseeable future.

Next year is "it," or it should be

Doesn't make that much sense putting that given my previous thoughts above, but let me break this down: Of the graduating class from the 2015 squad, the contributors that the Irish lose (not counting any potential GS) include 1st line Mids Will Corrigan and Nick Ossello, 2nd line Mid Jim Marlatt, 1st line Attack Conor Doyle and SSDM Jack Near.  That's it. There might be some growing pains in the midfield, but the Irish return Sergio Perkovic, who is easily one of the top middies in the country. Notre Dame returns Matt Kavanagh and Mikey Wynne to the attack, and have Eddy Lubowicki sitting in the wings. The entire back line returns intact, as does goalie Shane Doss. Make no mistake. The 2016 Notre Dame lacrosse team will be absolutely loaded and it would not surprise me to see them as a preseason top-3 team yet again.

Inferring that Denver's National Championship shows the "reach" of lacrosse is an insult to Denver

It honestly annoys the hell out of me when I hear the talking heads on ESPN wax poetic about how "unconventional" Denver's Championship is based solely on the fact that it's not a traditional east coast school that dominated lacrosse this season. They ignore the fact that Denver was a preseason #1 by most, if not all of the major publications. They ignore that Denver returned most/all of their roster and were coached by arguably the best coach in the country, maybe ever.

Is their roster unconventional? Perhaps, as some of the major contributors (Wesley Berg, Tyler Pace) are Canadian and others are either Colorado-based or from non-traditional lacrosse hotbeds. But top-point getter Connor Cannizarro is a Maryland-transfer who is from New York, as is his brother Sean. Zach Miller, the bane of the Irish defense, is from New York as well. And any GWLL fans know that Denver has always recruited locally very well and were basically a solid coach away from being a force.

That brings me to tweets like this:

This tweet could be interpreted in several ways, some of them being correct (thought not limited to just the three schools listed) and others being horribly wrong. Let’s start with the wrong.

From this tweet, it sounds like Shroff is suggesting that because Denver, a school not historically known for lacrosse, won a national championship, then Michigan, Ohio State, and Marquette could as well. It also sounds like he could be making a "regional" argument, i.e. that Michigan, Ohio State, and Marquette are not on the east coast (the Mecca of Lacrosse, if you will), and they could use Denver as a "We can be successful while not being on the east coast" argument.

These two interpretations of Shroff’s tweet completely miss the point of why Denver won the National Championship. Denver won because they were a veteran-heavy, well-coached, dynamic and deep lacrosse team.

As an example, take Shroff’s tweet and rewrite it circa 2012:

"Schools like Denver and Albany etc can now point to Loyola's title when recruiting. Trickle down of LU's title worth watching."

The reference of course, is to Loyola's 2012 championship and use that as a springboard for the great runs by the Pios, Danes and Buckeyes.

And yes, I'm being deliberately obtuse because Shroff is referencing the non-traditional midwestern teams as a means to prove a flawed point. His theory being, "Hey, this western school just won the National Championship, if you come play for [generic midwestern school], the same can happen!" However, this completely overlooks the giant blue and gold elephant in the room that doesn't help his thesis, if he is in fact making a regional success argument.

In my quote, I am referencing small schools to prove a flawed point as well. How is it flawed? Albany and Denver didn't benefit in recruiting from a small school like Loyola winning the championship. They benefitted from having great coaching and dynamic offenses that showcased the players on their roster. For Shroff's tweet to have any basis in reality, he needs to realize that what is holding new teams like Michigan and Marquette back (outside of sheer youth), is a simplistic outlook on what it takes to be a successful NCAA lacrosse program, namely good coaching and good recruiting.  However, good recruiting comes from good coaching.  This is a truth, regardless of the sport, and lacrosse is no different.  The schools named by Shroff lack Denver's impactful coach in Tierney and players like Berg, Bobzien and Cannizzaro who run Denver's unique style of offense to perfection. As for talent acquisition, with regards to the Shroff schools, in most cases, their top-tier local talent goes elsewhere because the programs lack prestige, recruiting ability, and, most importantly, impact coaching.

Could it happen? Maybe, but Michigan and Marquette need a lot more than a Denver lacrosse National Championship to improve their recruiting.

It’s also hard to understand the reference to Ohio State. Michigan and Marquette are recent upgrades to varsity from club programs, whereas Ohio State has been playing D1 lacrosse as far back as the 1950's and was a GWLL conference mate with Notre Dame since 1994. The Buckeyes have been to, and won NCAA tournament games, including this year. Lumping them in with newbies Marquette and Michigan doesn’t appear to make sense.

Where Shroff’s tweet could be correct, alluded to above, is if teams like Michigan, Marquette, and Ohio State, among other teams, realize that Denver succeeded for two primary reasons. First, they hired arguably the best coach in the game in Bill Tierney. Second, as a consequence of the first, they recruited players to fit Tierney’s system.  The Shroff schools, along with others, could realize the Denver formula of success and implement it.  If these teams are willing to pay for and hire a successful coaching staff and recruit players to fit that coach's style, success can be had.

A point that Shroff misses in all of this is the potential massive impact of Denver winning the national championship on national collegiate lacrosse as a whole. It is not the recruiting assistance to fringe programs that are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from Colorado. Rather, it is whether this could be the catalyst that would make more western club programs go varsity. While not as popular on the east coast as the west coast, there is an entire club league that is virtual varsity collegiate lacrosse called the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, or MCLA (In full disclosure, Punter Bro is a former MCLA player). The MCLA currently has over 200 college programs broken down into two divisions in multiple conferences, featuring some absolutely fantastic lacrosseLooking at the Top 25 teams in the country, most of the successful teams are all found in the Colorado/Arizona/California region, with a handful of other successful teams in the midwest and east coast. The reason this is relevant is because Denver has shown that successful lacrosse programs can exist out west through good organization, good coaching, and good regional recruiting (17 players are from west of the Mississippi River and 6 are from Canada), and it may convince some of the top MCLA programs to go varsity. Michigan, Marquette, Richmond, and Boston University all made the jump from MCLA to NCAA in recent years. Many of the successful MCLA programs are filled with local players. More western teams going varsity would only increase the talent pool of players from out west.  It is certainly plausible to imagine a western lacrosse conference composed of teams like Denver, Colorado, Colorado State, BYU, Arizona State, Arizona, and others.  Colorado has great local talent and some of the top high schools in the country when it comes to lacrosse.  Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Only time will tell.

Until that time, congratulations to the Pioneers on a well-deserved and long overdue national title, and here is to hoping for a title for the Irish next season.