Courtesy of NCAA Photos/Denver Athletics

The Denver men’s lacrosse team (7–2, 5–0 Big East) took down Providence (3–5, 2–4 Big East) in its most recent matchup over the weekend with three former Yale lacrosse players setting the pace. Attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 led Denver with 7 points, while midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 found the back of the net once. Transfer TD Ierlan, meanwhile, picked up 10 ground balls in addition to winning every faceoff he attempted. 

The Saturday win was the first game in which all three former Elis played together as Pioneers. Morrill and Cotler chose to transfer to Denver last year to utilize an extra season of eligibility following the cancellation of spring 2020 competition and the Ivy League’s initial decision to maintain its policy restricting athletics to undergraduates in their first four years of enrollment. Ierlan transferred to Denver mid-year after much of the Yale men’s lacrosse team decided to take leaves of absence this spring, rendering the team unable to compete as they awaited an official decision on spring competition from the Ivy League.

Despite transferring to Denver, Ierlan, who was also the No. 1 MLL draft pick last May, will graduate with a Yale degree in the future. All three student-athletes emphasized that they would have returned to Yale if policies around eligibility and athletic competition had worked out in their favor this year.

“I was a little more unorthodox,” Ierlan said. “With the Ivy League not playing this year … it seemed like they had no intention of letting us play … so I knew I wanted to finish it out with Jackson and Lucas. Being two of my best friends and playing at Yale together, it seemed like the best fit.”

The three are currently living in a house with other graduate students at Denver — midfielder Danny Logan, midfielder Kyle Smith and attacker Ethan Walker — and have spent time bonding with their teammates while attending practices.

Ierlan, who holds NCAA career records for ground balls and face-offs won, transferred to Yale after two years at Albany. He is now playing for Denver this spring. (Photo: Courtesy of Yale Athletics)

Cotler, a major offensive weapon for the Elis who contributed a combined 25 points with Morrill during Yale’s 2018 NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament run that resulted in a national championship, expressed his appreciation for his new teammates and the opportunity to play again this season.

“The type of character that is across the team, it’s a very high character of individuals, so that’s been kind of the biggest positive for me,” Cotler told the News. “There are a lot of similarities [to Yale]. I think that’s what kind of drew us to Denver in the first place.”

Cotler said that both he and Morrill wanted to play together this season, especially under the leadership of Denver head coach Bill Tierney, whom Cotler referred to as a “lacrosse legend.”

Tierney reciprocated the respect and added that he was thrilled to receive some of Yale’s finest.

“We knew they were great players,” Tierney wrote in an email to the News. “I have so much admiration for [Yale men’s lacrosse head] coach [Andy] Shay. … But I knew if we were to take any fifth-year guys from his program, they would be great young men, players and teammates.”

Tierney said Morrill has adjusted well to Denver associate coach Matt Brown’s offense and “quarterbacks our team each game.” Morrill ranks second on the team with 20 goals and currently leads the Pioneers with 22 assists. Tierney called Cotler “a mainstay on our first midfield.” The 6-foot midfielder, who has started all nine games, is fifth on the squad with 12 points

Ierlan and Cotler told the News that they have kept in contact with their old teammates at Yale, many of them giving support before the start of games and “living through [them] this year.”

When they are not playing lacrosse or attending school, the trio said they have spent much of their free time outside and exploring the nearby mountains, while also occasionally playing golf and fly fishing.

“Our team pretty much goes by a motto that’s ‘survival of the fittest,’ so whoever gets sick first is gonna be the team that loses,” Cotler said, referring to public health protocol adherence. “We’ve been pretty strict, [and] I think, honestly, without the season, I would say that more athletes will have less restrictions, and I think having the season is keeping us COVID free.”

Cotler has started all nine games for Denver this spring and ranks fifth on the squad with 12 points. (Photo: Courtesy of NCAA Photos/Denver Athletics)

While Ierlan said he is focusing on completing his political science degree, Cotler and Morrill are working towards their master’s degrees in quantitative finance, as they make preparations to graduate in 10 weeks. 

Morrill, who departed New Haven as one of the most decorated attackmen for Yale with the second most points in program history, mentioned his excitement to play for Denver.

“Moving to a new conference, I think we’ve gotten pretty used to playing the Princetons, the Dartmouths, the Harvards of the world, and just playing new teams and having to prepare for whole different styles I think has been something that’s fun and different,” he said.

During his Yale career, Morrill also earned numerous accolades while suiting up for the Blue and White, including several All-American honors and multiple All-Ivy selections.

Despite being a mid-season addition, Ierlan got immediately to work, said Tierney. The Pioneers’ 23–10 win over Providence last weekend was Ierlan’s first appearance with Denver.

“Like the other two, [Ierlan] has fit in very well with the guys on our team,” Tierney said. “In his first game, he went 14 for 14 [on faceoffs] and was so excited to play lacrosse again.”

The perfect faceoff performance from Ierlan was nothing new. He stands out as the most prolific faceoff specialist in NCAA history. Having first transferred to Yale to play in the 2019 season in which the Bulldogs reached their second consecutive national championship game, he played a major role in Yale’s recent dominance, setting nearly a dozen NCAA records for faceoffs and ground balls in the process.

Morrill ranks second on the team with 20 goals and currently leads the Pioneers with 22 assists. (Photo: Courtesy of Denver Athletics)

The three look forward to the rest of their season with cautious excitement.

 “We’re just trying to take this thing one game at a time, one week at a time,” Cotler said. “We’ve already had a game canceled with [Villanova] due to COVID, so we’re just trying to stay focused on getting better every day. Obviously we have goals to win it all, both in the Big East and the NCAA. We have lofty goals but we got talent to do it.”

The Pioneers last took the field against Yale in 2005, losing 10–9 in an overtime finish.

Akshar Agarwal | akshar.agarwal@yale.edu

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu