Generation X and O: Lehigh at Denver Not Just Any Game

By Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations

This Saturday's Lehigh at Denver showdown isn't just any game. There are a number of parallels between the two programs, who have taken similar paths from relative unknowns to national prominence. A meeting of the minds between the coaching staffs helped spark Lehigh's record-breaking 2012 season while helping the Pioneers advance to the National Quarterfinals for a second straight season.

Expectations for both programs continue to rise. The Mountain Hawks are #8 in this week's Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, while Denver comes in at #11. The USILA Coaches Poll also has Denver at #11, but the Mountain Hawks at #12.

The head coaches are two of each other's biggest fans. In January of 2012, Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese contacted friend and current Denver coach Bill Tierney to see if he could bring his staff out to the Mile High City.

"Every year, I try to take my coaching staff on a preseason road trip to visit with other top coaches in the game, talk about X's and O's, watch a practice if possible and talk about how they run their programs," said Cassese. "We have done this with Dave Cottle (and staff) when he was at Maryland and Dom Starsia (and staff) at Virginia."

The Lehigh and Denver staffs talked X's and O's, program philosophies and more. For Cassese, one of the primary reasons he wanted to meet with Tierney was defense. Brendan Callahan had just been promoted to Defensive Coordinator (after Taylor Wray was hired as Saint Joseph's head coach), and Errol Wilson was new to the staff as Associate Defensive Coordinator.

"Given the level of respect I have for Coach T and the incredible amount of success he's realized in his coaching career, I always wanted to sit down with him and pick his brain on several topics, including lacrosse, program management and life as a coach beyond the game," said Cassese. "I also thought the timing was perfect. After four years at Lehigh, I realized that we needed a philosophical shift in our defensive strategy. I thought who better to learn from than the man who is credited for revolutionizing the way defense was played with his Princeton teams in the 1990s."

Although not the sole reason for Lehigh's turnaround, that meeting helped lead to great things in Bethlehem, Pa. The Mountain Hawks' defense wasn't bad by any means in 2011 (allowing 9.38 goals per game), but took it up a level in 2012, finishing second nationally (allowing only 6.82 goals per game).

Lehigh's staff of Cassese, Callahan, Wilson and Tom Compitello got together with Tierney, Matt Brown and Trevor Tierney (Bill's son) of Denver.

"We listened as Coach Tierney talked about his defensive philosophy and we watched as he broke down bits and pieces of the systems he was implementing at Denver and those he had success with while at Princeton," said Cassese. "Matt Brown, Tom Compitello, and I went back and forth on offense and extra man offense."

On the defensive side, Trevor Tierney, Wilson and Callahan talked at length about goalie play.

"I also had the chance to sit down and talk one-on-one with Coach Tierney about how he runs his program and life as a coach, both on the field, off the field and away from campus," said Cassese. "Needless to say, it was a highly productive day. Once again, I left with a new found respect for Coach Tierney and everything he represents as a coach and educator."

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