If you were paying attention this weekend to the NCAA Division 1 quarterfinals, you noticed that Denver University, with two Washington State players on the roster, (Bellevue’s Cole Nordstrom and Skyline’s Jack Pruitt) beat up on Drexel and advanced to next weekend’s semifinals. Legendary Denver coach Bill Tierney is trying to win his first championship since leaving Princeton, a feat that would rock the East Coast-dominated lacrosse world.
A little while ago, the Washington Lacrosse Foundation brought Coach Tierney up to speak with area coaches. SoundLacrosse was fortunate enough to sit down and talk about his time at Denver and his plans to dominate recruiting in the West. He shared some interesting perspectives that you might not have been able to predict.
SL: Coach, it seems as if you’re evolving Denver University’s team image from “We can play with any team in the East” to “We own the West.” Is that a conscience decision for you and your staff?
BT: Oh absolutely. We definitely feel that we want to have the first crack at any player west of the Mississippi. We used to say, “We gotta get the three C’s; Colorado, California and Canada.” Now, we’ve expanded that to include the rest of the West, like Washington. We’ve got two strong players from Washington and we’re looking for more. We’ve scheduled exhibition and early season games on this coast and we do it because we want young lacrosse kids to think about us first.
SL:Is there difference between recruiting a kid from the East versus the West?
BT: It’s a huge difference. We learned the hard way that kids from the East, good players, can sometimes present problems for us. For many kids like that, DU is not their first choice, they were hoping to go to Syracuse or Hopkins or something. They think they’re doing us a favor by coming here to play. And if we catch any hint of that, we’ll pass on that kid. It can be a poison for our team chemistry. Players from the West still have that burning desire, that chip on their shoulder to show the East that they’re good enough to compete with anyone.
SL: With such a huge geographic area to cover, how do you recruit effectively in the West with limited staff time?
BT: First, we work hard. We’re always listening to coaches, to lacrosse guys, to find out when someone has a player that we need to be looking at. And we found that we see the best players from the West at all the camps we go to in the East. Funny, it’s really not that hard to see them, they’re at the same camps as everyone else. So we hunt them down there and watch them. Then we host our own team camps, player camps and we like to get them to our camps just like all teams do.
Take Josh Matte, the goalie out here who verbally committed to join us. We saw him with his club team back east, we liked what we and invited him back to our player camp. Josh showed up, we had about 5 or 10 other goalies we were really interested in, and Josh stood out. Head and shoulders about the other ones. We worked hard to see him, and he worked hard to get seen. And we’re very excited about his future with the Pioneers.
SL: So staying on Josh, he’s a sophomore at Eastside Catholic, and verballed after his freshman season. There’s lots of talk these days about all the badness associated with early recruiting of underclassmen, that’s been covered extensively. Tell us about the other side of the coin. Are there any advantages to the trend in early recruiting?
BT: First, it used to be that I’d have a kid fly to campus to visit, say, after his junior season. Shows up at my office and my first question is always “How are your grades?” If he says “Well, I’ve got a 2.0,” I’d say “Well, you just wasted a trip” because there’s no way to raise that GPA in the time he has left in high school. But a kid after his freshman year, I can say “You want to play here? Show me. Get your grades up, there’s time.” And that helps kids out, it lets them know that they’ve got to study but there’s still time for their lacrosse dream. Secondly, with early recruiting, we may have kids that don’t end up coming here. They change their mind, they get hurt, they lose their love of the game, whatever. I may not know how many of my freshman recruits will end up on campus, but I know the ones that do are going to be good. Because they’ve been involved in a long process that required commitment. And thirdly, when a kid commits to another program early, that means I can quit recruiting him. That saves us a lot of resources. I hate working hard over multiple years to get a kid only to find out we came in second, we were his second choice. Now I wish him luck and move on.
SL: What are three things every Washington player should be doing if they want to play at the next level?
- Individual work is much more important than team practice. It’s great if you want to play with a club team over the summer. But you have to do that in addition to your individual work, not instead of. You’ve got to do wall ball, and you’ve got to get stronger and faster. And that all takes individual work.
- Practice at Speed. Working on your shot while standing still is worthless. Shooting from a jog is worthless. Practice at speed.
- Watch good lacrosse. It’s easy now. We used to have to trade old video cassettes of the great games. Now every game you want to watch is online. Find them, watch them and figure out why they are great games
SL: You mentioned summer club teams? Is that a necessary thing every recruit should do?
BT: I’ve been at DU since 2009. In that time I have watched five high school lacrosse games, all of them in Colorado. We will likely never see your high school team play. We can’t, the seasons are the same as ours. Playing with a club team is huge. That being said, be sure you know the difference between a team camp and an individual camp. Do both, but be smart about it.
SL: How do you mean “be smart about it?”
BT: Here’s a little secret about every college’s team camp. You need about 40 players so you can achieve critical mass for your camp. You need enough players for drills and for the games. 40 is about the right number. But we’re never in a position to recruit 40 kids, we’re probably really only looking a 15-20 of them. So when you’ve picked out a college you want to attend, and you get yourself invited to their team camp, you need to make sure you’re one of the 15-20, and not the rest of the camp roster fillers. Otherwise, you’re likely wasting your time and your parents’ money.
And here’s the big secret; the surefire way to know if a school is really interested in you. When you get invited to your dream school’s team camp, call them up and say “I’d really love to come to your camp. And after the camp is over, I’d like to sit down with you for an hour and have a discussion about where you see me fitting into your program.” This will tell you exactly where you stand. If they beat around the bush and say things like “Well, it’s a pretty busy time for us right when a camp is ending” then you know you’re just a roster filler. But if they say “Absolutely, let’s set that up right now” then you know they’re interested in you. And they know you’re interested in them, and that’s a big deal, because they don’t want to waste their time just to have you sign somewhere else.
SL: Tell us about our boys, Nordstrom and Pruitt
BT: These two men are a pleasure to coach, they really have been. And they’re great ambassadors for Washington lacrosse. They’re a big part of the reason we keeping recruiting
in the state. I’ve loved having Cole and the whole Nordstrom family for these years. They are a great part of our program. Cole’s battled injuries his career here and you feel bad for him for that. But he’s made our team better and we appreciate his hard work.
Jack Pruitt is an example of what I was talking about earlier. We saw him at a camp, found out he was from Washington and said we’ve got to have him. If he was from a hotbed part of the country back East, he might be playing for a different top program. He’s going to have a fine career for us here at Denver. Great kid, great family.
SL: Well that does it, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
BT: Always a pleasure, I love to visit up here. Lots of great lacrosse.
Don’t miss the Washington Lacrosse Foundation’s Summer Solstice tournament, coming up June 20th through 22nd at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. More information here.