“We gotta get this kid,” Marist’s head lacrosse coach, Keegan Wilkinson, said.
Wilkinson was scouting at an event on Long Island when he first saw Joe Tierney. Tierney was just a sophomore in high school and his team was in the playoffs. His stick broke in the middle of the biggest game of the season. Tierney responded by grabbing a random stick, running back on the field, and scoring a goal.
“Most kids would be complaining or very confused about how to handle the situation,” Coach Wilkinson said. “This kid grabbed a random stick, got locked in, sprinted back out there, scored a goal, and led his team to a victory.”
Tierney’s attitude was one of the reasons he was among the first players that Coach Wilkinson targeted in that recruiting class. He’s a fearless leader and has the ability to motivate the team when that’s needed, but he can also bring the team together as one.
He also possesses the flexibility to switch positions when the team needed him too. The former attacker switched to midfield in his junior season, due to an influx of talent at the attack position.
“I was very open to switching positions,” Tierney said. “Coach Wilks made an awesome decision to put Jamison (Embury) down at attack and put me up in midfield, which really helped us, as you can see with the MAAC Championship last year.”
“I think Joe was completely aware that [switching] would make us better,” Coach Wilkinson praised. “Now we have two guys that share similar skill sets, both very smart players, both excellent feeders, and the more of those guys you can have on the field, the better.”
The biggest difference between the positions is dodging and off-ball movement. Starting a play from ‘X’ (behind the goal) and working your way around is a totally different perspective than starting a play at midfield and working forward. It’s been an adjustment for Tierney, who says he still has work to do. He’s put in a lot of work, particularly on his shot. “I definitely had to work on shooting from up top, I had to expand my distance a little bit,” Tierney explained.
“Once he made the move to midfield last year, we worked really, really hard with his shooting and that’s something that has evolved his game,” Coach Wilkinson said. “If you had told me a little more than 365 days ago last year that he would’ve had seven goals in the MAAC Tournament, I would’ve never believed you. But he worked his butt off to get his shooting to a point where he’s now a threat as a shooter.”
Tierney’s work ethic was among the reasons he was selected to wear #34 this season, a long-standing tradition for Marist men’s lacrosse team. One player is chosen to honor Eddie Coombs, based on talent, work ethic, and leadership.
Coombs tragically passed away in a car accident just before he would’ve started his sophomore year at Marist. From the moment he walked onto campus as a freshman, he established himself as a leader with an exuberant personality.
“When we make this decision, it’s not something we take lightly,” Coach Wilkinson explained. “We consult with all the guys who have worn the jersey previously, and we also talk with the Coombs family and just update them on different things that are transpiring in the program.”
Tierney was the unanimous choice.
“It really meant a lot to me,” Tierney said. “Ever since I got here on-campus, I started getting a better understanding of this tradition each year. The type of person that Eddie Coombs was, the way he played, his attitude, and the way he led a team.”
Tierney had some good role models that wore #34 in the previous three seasons. Jimmy Murphy wore it in Tierney’s freshman year, Brian Corrigan wore it his sophomore year, and Matthew Selts wore it last year.
“Brian played net, he was one of the best goalies I’ve ever played with,” Tierney explained. “Jimmy and Matt were both total workhorses at defensive midfield. Jimmy really set the foundation for us as freshman. He showed us the way and showed how to lead as a senior wearing #34. Those are guys that I look up to and I’m really honored to wear #34 after them.”
Since Tierney plays a different position than those guys, his game is obviously different. But he tries to emulate the amount of heart that they played with and their style of leadership. This was evident to Coach Wilkinson after the Richmond game on Friday, February 14th. The Red Foxes lost to the #19 ranked team in the country. Most of the guys were content competing with a nationally ranked team and only losing by two goals, but Tierney wasn’t having any of it. He gave a passionate speech in the locker room, demanding more from his teammates.
“Joe sounded a lot like Eddie in that locker room,” Coach Wilkinson said. “He came in and said ‘Guys it’s great that we’re feeling really good right now but we need to beat these teams. We’re on the same level and we need to come out with a win.’”
It led to the biggest win in program history.
The Red Foxes hosted the #9/7 Army West Point Black Knights just four days later. The visitors came in as the heavy favorites, but the Red Foxes didn’t mind playing the underdogs. In fact, they thrived in that role, defeating the Cadets 17-9. A no-look, over-the-shoulder goal from attacker Jake Weinman even made SportsCenter’s Top 10 list at #2. The win led to the Red Foxes being ranked 19th in the country by US Lacrosse Magazine.
“I guess [Joe’s speech] worked,” Coach Wilkinson smirked. “No one was offended by Joe demanding a lot from them. No one thought any differently from Joe really demanding that they put that game behind them and stay motivated. It says a lot about Joe.”
Header photo by Mike Cahill