No. 10 Denver’s season got off to a fine start as the Pioneers benefited from a 9-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to defeat No. 6 Duke, 14-12, in Durham, N.C., on Saturday.
The victory would seem to be a significant boost for a Denver squad that graduated its top two attackmen in Mark Matthews (47 goals and 17 assists in 2012) and Alex Demopoulos (20, 27).
But prior to Saturday’s contest, Pioneers coach Bill Tierney was uncertain what value a game on Feb. 9 would have for either side as the season unfolds.
“You can look at things from different ways,” he said Thursday. “It’s February 9, and at the end of the day, whatever happens on May 27 is not going to be greatly affected by what happens between Duke and Denver on February 9. On the other hand, scheduling one like this, it’s hard to get non-league teams in April and it’s harder to get top-five opponents in April or March even. So even though this isn’t ideal – we both would like to practice more, we both would like to know a little more about each other, we both would like to have a game or two under our belts – the hope of the matter is that at the end of the year, win or lose, we’ve played a game against someone else who is being considered for the NCAA tournament. What we found last year is that the more games you can get against top opponents, the better off you are – interestingly enough, even if you lose. So that’s kind of two sides of it. You’ve got the Memorial Day weekend side that doesn’t mean a thing. Then you’ve got the playing the Top 10 team that can mean a lot.”
As for the Blue Devils, Saturday’s setback will sting, but it’s not the end of the world. Duke opened the 2011 campaign with two losses in its first three games before rattling off seven consecutive wins and reaching the NCAA tournament semifinals. In 2010, the program lost three of its first five games before eventually capturing the national championship.
Tierney has never been shy about scheduling tough opponents for season openers. In 2010 and 2011 – his first two seasons in Denver after piloting Princeton for 22 years – the team opened campaigns against Syracuse. Last season, the Pioneers met Eastern College Athletic Conference rival Ohio State.
Tierney said he is willing to schedule whoever is willing to schedule Denver.
“I’ve done this for a long, long time,” he said. “When I was at Princeton, we used to open with Hopkins every year. Same thing. I just felt like we’re either going to be over our heads or it’s going to be a war or whatever it is depending on how your team is and their team is. You just do it and you learn from it and you try to make yourself better. Nobody is going to go undefeated. So just play.”