Pioneers and Falcons take I-25 Battle into NCAA
Fifth-seeded Denver welcomes Air Force to Peter Barton Saturday at 3 p.m. MT (ESPNU)
May 12, 2017
DENVER – If you wanted to drive between the home stadiums of the two teams that will meet in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in the Lacrosse Capital of the West on Saturday (3 p.m. MT/ESPNU/ESPN Denver 1600), it would only take you 52.6 miles by car, with 48.9 of those miles being spent on interstate-25 that connects the two campuses.
Not only will the two western-most teams meet in Denver on Saturday afternoon, but the NCAA Selection Committee provided the sport with a true “western region” in the postseason as the next two western teams, Notre Dame and Marquette, will meet in South Bend on Sunday.
If the NCAA Quarterfinal sites weren’t pre-determined, maybe Children’s Mercy Park (MLS home to Sporting KC) in Kansas City would be a perfect fit for this year’s west regional, but the two winners of this weekend’s first round match-ups will funnel into the Hofstra quarterfinal next Saturday on Long Island. This year marks the second-consecutive year that the four western-most teams have made up a quarter of the teams in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and the quartet are guaranteed to make-up a fourth of the quarterfinalists and Championship Weekend field in 2017.
“At one point, the NCAA viewed Western Lacrosse as being so important and so in need of “help” that they instituted an automatic qualifier to the tournament,” Inside Lacrosse Publisher Terry Foy said. “That began the Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) in 1994, which helped promote the development of programs like Denver, Air Force and Notre Dame in really meaningful ways. Now, it’s all earned. For the second year in a row, the sport’s four western-most DI teams clawed their way into the Tournament field the same way the other 13 selections did, and that’s a testament to the players, coaches and administrations who built a plan, believed in it, worked it and are now reaping the reward — at least one extra week of their season and a shot at history."
Lacrosse’s #MayMadness is different from its March counter-part in that all 16 games (including the play-in game) played in the NCAA Tournament are in their own timeslots, and barring a weather delay or a multiple-overtime affair, lacrosse fans across the nation have the opportunity to watch all of them in their entirety, with the 15 non play-in games being broadcast on the ESPN Family of Networks.
The west region features two rematches of regular season match-ups earlier this year. Notre Dame edged Denver’s BIG EAST Conference mates by a goal in South Bend in early April for the second-consecutive year, while the Pioneers defeated Air Force 14-6 back in DU’s season opener two months earlier.
Prior to Denver’s eight goal win earlier this season, two of the previous four meetings had been decided by just a goal. Denver is 18-2 in its Division I history against the Falcons, winning the last nine games in the series. Saturday though will be the first NCAA meeting between the two former conference rivals, and just the fifth match-up in the month of May (Denver is 3-1).
After Denver turned Division I in 1999, DU and AFA were members of the Great Western Lacrosse League together for 11 seasons. In the transition from the GWLL to the ECAC, the two programs played a home-and-home in the 2010 season, the first of four years for both teams in the conference. Denver would go on to join the BIG EAST ahead of the 2014 season, but the two programs have kept their I-25 rivalry with a February match-up every year since.
“It’s amazing to have this matchup with the two westernmost teams in lacrosse,” Tierney said in a media session following the Selection Show Sunday. “We came together here eight years ago, and what coach (Eric) Seremet has done in the last five or six years (at Air Force) — it’s amazing that both programs have risen the way they have.
“We’re outliers in this world, not only geographically but also from an emotional and mental standpoint from all the others, the Eastern establishment. So to see us both there, I’m really proud to be mentioned with Eric and the Air Force team.”
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