DU lacrosse returns to NCAA Tournament for first time in three years

Likely the most talent-rich lacrosse house in America sits just off the University of Denver campus, where the key to to the Pioneers’ NCAA tournament run resides.

Seven of DU’s best players live in a five-bedroom house within walking distance of Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, where the Pioneers take on Loyola in Sunday’s opening round. Five of them — TD Ierlan, Danny Logan, Colin Squires, Ethan Walker and Jackson Morrill — were selected in the Premier Lacrosse League draft, giving DU the most picks of any program in the nation.

That quintet, along with fellow house members and key contributors Kyle Smith and Lucas Colter, are at the forefront of the Pioneers’ first tournament appearance in three years. DU didn’t qualify in 2019, and the tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s kind of a tight squeeze (in the house), but we make the most of it,” Walker said. “We come home from practice and lifts, and we sit on the couch and we walk about lacrosse, we hang out, we have a good time. That camaraderie shows on the field as well.”

Games of all varieties have been a staple in the house this season, especially with the team’s strict quarantine restrictions to keep coronavirus out of the program.

“We play a ton of cards,” Morrill said. “And Colin Squires is super into any and all (board) games, so he’s usually bringing up ideas for games that Lucas, TD and I have never heard of. But it’s been a lot of fun.”

Morrill, Colter and Ierlan are graduate transfers from Yale after the Ivy League canceled its 2021 season, and the trio’s been a significant factor in the Pioneers’ return to the NCAA tournament. Ierlan, selected fourth overall April 26 as DU’s highest-drafted player, has played just eight games so far as a late addition. But the holder of numerous NCAA records acclimated quickly into the lineup, and gives DU an obvious edge in faceoffs.

“They’ve plugged right in,” said Logan, a three-year captain. “And their leadership down the stretch — especially with their experience in big-time games — is huge and we’re going to need that. We’re definitely going to be leaning on them as we move into the NCAAs.”

Morrill and Colter both played significant roles in Yale’s national title in 2018, while Ierlan (who began his college career with Albany) is also seasoned on college lacrosse’s biggest stage after playing with the Bulldogs in the 2019 championship game.

The Pioneers’ defense is anchored by Squires, Logan and sophomore goalie Jack Thompson. The Rock Canyon product started all 16 games after winning the job late in his freshman year, with a 8.2 goals against average in 2021.

“If you play a freshman or a young sophomore like he is and especially in the goal, you always expect at some point, there’s going to be a drop-off,” coach Bill Tierney said. “Jack has continued to just play well.”

Thompson said the Pioneers “believe our team’s capable of winning the national championship,” even after coming off a tough loss to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament championship. The Hoyas outscored DU 4-1 in the final quarter for a 10-9 result, but Tierney believes his team gave its best effort of the season in the loss.

“We should remember that one even more than some of the victories just because of the feeling we had at the end of the game,” Tierney said. “Of course disappointment, of course we were upset we didn’t win…. (But) we are using that feeling as motivation. If we can continue to play that hard, we’re going to be playing a few more lacrosse games.”

This year marks the Pioneers’ 12th appearance in the NCAA tournament and 10th under Tierney, who led DU to the 2015 national title. As Logan emphasized, this year’s team is eager to re-assert Denver as a national power.

“Written across our scouting reports has been the quote, ‘What are you saving it for?’” Logan said. “That’s been our mantra all year.”

DU’s Road To Connecticut

First round info: No. 7 DU (12-4) vs unranked Loyola Maryland (9-5), 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. A limited number of fans (960) will be allowed in the stadium for the first time since March 1, 2020. The first- and second-round games will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Matchup history: DU and Loyola used to play against each other in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, splitting the all-time series 3-3, but have not faced off since 2013.

Up next: If the Pioneers win, they’ll play the winner of No. 2 Duke and High Point on Sunday, May 23, at Arlotta Stadium in South Bend, Ind. DU lost to Duke 12-10 on Feb. 5, the second game of the season.

DU’s key players: Grad. Attack Jackson Morrill, Grad. Faceoff TD Ierlan, Soph. Faceoff Alec Stathakis, Grad. Attack Ethan Walker, Jr. Midfield Alex Simmons, Sr. Midfield Jack Hannah, Grad. Midfield Lucas Colter, Sr. Midfield Ted Sullivan, Soph. Goalie Jack Thompson, Soph. Defender Jack DiBenedetto, Soph. Defender Adam Hangland, Grad. Defender Colin Squires, Grad. Defensive Middie Danny Logan, Grad. Defensive Middie Kyle Smith.

Of note: DU features a true lacrosse blue-blood in Morrill, who comes from the lone family featuring three generations in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His dad, Mike, won a pair of national titles at Johns Hopkins and was a 2016 inductee, while his grandfather and great-grandfather are also members of the Hall of Fame. Additionally, his older brother Zeke played at Georgetown and his mom played at Dartmouth.

NCAA championship: Monday, May 31, 11 a.m. MT, Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn. (ESPN2).

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