Orange Watch: Syracuse lacrosse finds old foe waiting in NCAA semifinals

Item: The Syracuse and Denver programs meet for a third time in four seasons in Saturday’s NCAA Lacrosse Final Four, but the two head coaches go way back.  

They’ve won a combined 11 NCAA titles, first (tied) and second most in Div. I history.

The rivalry between Syracuse’s John Desko (five championships) and Denver coach Bill Tierney (six titles) was born the May day in 1992 when Tierney’s upstart Princeton team upset Desko’s mentor and predecessor Roy Simmons Jr.’s  terrific top-seeded squad, 10-9 in 2OT, in Philadelphia’s venerable Franklin Field for the ’92 NCAA championship.

» More Orange Watch: Goal for Syracuse is to get to Philly

Coaches Desko and Tierney will faceoff for the sixth time in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday

When Desko succeeded Simmons (tied with Tierney winning six titles) in 1999, SU and Princeton became annual regular season rivals, and the two programs would go on to play nine more times in NCAA play including three championship games in three straight years (2000-02).

In fact, between 1992 and 2003, Princeton lacrosse under Tierney ended each season either winning the NCAA title, or losing to Syracuse teams coached by Simmons or Desko in the tournament.  No one else could seemingly dethrone the Tigers dynasty other than the Orange.

In 2010, when Tierney shocked the college lacrosse world with his move west for both family reasons and the challenge of building a NCAA contender from scratch, the first game on his Pioneers schedule was a meeting against Desko and the ‘Cuse in the Dome, something they repeated a season later, both resulting in Orange victories.

» Related: Syracuse defeats Yale to reach Final Four

When the two coaches resume their five game NCAA history on Saturday in the nightcap of the national semi-final doubleheader (5:00 p.m. ET/ESPN2) it will be, ironically, in Philadelphia, although as symbolic of the growth of the game (and tournament) geographically, the Philly venue has evolved from Penn’s Ivy League campus to the NFL Eagle’s Lincoln Financial Field.

As advertised, the hall of famer Tierney has done wonders in Denver in just four seasons with his second trip to the Final Four.  As for Desko, a future hall of fame member, as he eyes tying both his college head coach and former boss, and his next foe on Saturday for a sixth title of his own, this marks perhaps the best coaching job of his 15-year career with an out-of-nowhere top-seed in the tournament, and now back on a familiar stage of still playing for the school’s 12th national championship.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.