Zach Miller, Seneca, an attackman for the University of Denver, scored a huge goal in the beginning of the second half of the NCAA lacrosse championship game versus Maryland Monday, helping the Pioneers take their place in history with a 10-5 victory.
The Pioneers (17-2) became the first NCAA lacrosse team west of the Appalachians to win a national title, and the kid from the Allegany Reservation in western New York was there every step of the way. Denver senior Wesley Berg scored on the Pioneers first possession and finished with five goals on nine shots. Miller added a goal and two assists.
Miller, an Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-American from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, juked right and spun past his defender with that patented two-handed shooting style that’s more like an extension of his body. The Denver sophomore, who scored 38 goals last year as a freshman, beat Maryland goaltender Kyle Bernlohr to give the Pioneers a 6-3 lead to open the second half. Miller also had the assist on Berg’s fourth goal to make it 8-3 midway through the third period.
“[We knew] if we played with that never-say-die attitude we had when against Ohio State, we’d have good chance of winning a national championship,” Miller told ICTMN.
In a bit of irony on a historical day, Miller and Berg were on different sides of the face-off this past summer at the World Field Lacrosse Championships in Denver. Miller helped the Iroquois Nationals to a historical bronze medal, and Berg was a member of the gold-medal Canadian team. But at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the two combined for six of the Pioneers 10 goals against Maryland, a team that was (15-5) trying to win its first national championship.
In 2009, coach Bill Tierney (83-25 in six seasons with the Pioneers; 355-118 overall) left Princeton after 22 seasons and six national championships to come to Denver. His Pioneer teams have been knocking on the door, having lost in the semifinals the past three years. But, on a perfect sunlit day in Philadelphia, they kicked the door down. “I’m just so thankful for the university to believe in us,” Tierney told ESPN after the game. “They believed this day was possible.”
It was that spirit of the American frontier that told Miller his destiny was out west. Miller, who played his high school lacrosse at The Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, is the future, on a team that has players from 17 different states and two Canadian Provinces, and one from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. “One of the reasons I chose to come to Denver is because it was a new program on the rise,” said Miller. “I want to help build the program, and I believe we have the best coaching staff in the country.”
In the past 32 years, six other programs have reached the title game for the first time. Only one, 1992 Princeton, won it on its first try. That team, of course, was coached by Tierney, and now you can add one more.