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Denver, coached by Levittown native Bill Tierney, beats Maryland for first NCAA lacrosse title

Denver's head coach Bill Tierney gets a hug

Denver's head coach Bill Tierney gets a hug after its 10-5 win over Maryland in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse championship, Saturday, May 25, 2015, Philadelphia. Credit: AP / RICH SCHULTZ

PHILADELPHIA - When it comes to Division I men's lacrosse, Denver now can be recognized as the university with the perfectly apt nickname.

The Pioneers defeated Maryland, 10-5, on Monday before a crowd of 24,215 at sun-drenched Lincoln Financial Field to become the first school outside the Eastern time zone to win the sport's national championship.

Denver (17-2) -- sparked by tournament most outstanding player Wesley Berg, who scored the game's first three goals and finished with five -- also made Bill Tierney the first coach in Division I men's lacrosse to win titles at two schools.

Tierney, a Levittown native who began his Hall of Fame coaching career at Levittown Division and Great Neck South high schools, won his first six national titles at Princeton.

"It's not about me," said Tierney, 63. "At Princeton, we did pretty well and it was time to go to a new challenge. I'm not downplaying that, but when I go to my grave, I don't want them putting on my headstone how many national championships I had. I want them to put on my headstone that my players loved me."

His players certainly do. "He's obviously helped me as a player, but he's made me a better person," Berg said. "It's not just about lacrosse with us, and that's why the program is so strong."

Added goalie Ryan LaPlante, "I'm just glad that I've had the opportunity to play for one of the greatest, if not the greatest, coach in the history of the sport."

Berg and LaPlante contributed mightily to Tierney's and Denver's legacy Monday. Berg scored on his first three shots and added a goal in each of the final two quarters.

LaPlante led a rock-solid defense with 13 saves to stop Maryland (15-4). "The defense gave me the shots I wanted to see," he said. "They were, like, 13-yard shots, and that's where I want to see them, instead of in tight."

LaPlante did make one key save from close range on Henry West in the closing seconds of the first half to preserve a 5-3 lead. "A save like that carries you right into the locker room," Tierney said. "That was huge."

So, Tierney said, was this win. Denver had been playing Division I lacrosse only since 1999 when he took over before the 2010 season. He guided the Pioneers to four Final Fours in the last five years, but Monday was their first time in a title game.

"We wouldn't have admitted it beforehand, but I feel like we were carrying a burden around and now it's off," Tierney said. "It's easy to say that it doesn't matter, but you constantly hear that 'three out of four Final Fours, four out of five Final Fours . . . Are they going to blow another one?' Not one person at our university said you're a failure if you don't win a national championship, but it still kind of gets to you."

Tierney was "stunned" by the coverage his team has gotten in Denver. "They kind of adopted the lacrosse team and followed our path," he said.

A path that led to a historic championship by some trailblazing pioneers.

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