The original goal was for Denver to make it to NCAA Division I lacrosse tournament in five years, but the Pioneers advanced to the Final Four in two.
Now, the focus has changed.
Heading into the first heavy week of the regular season, everybody wants a piece of No. 3 Denver because they can no longer be overlooked.
"Last year was great for us," said Denver third-year coach Bill Tierney, considered to be one of the best in the game. "Our manta then was 'Too Stupid To Be Scared.' This year is more of a challenge. We don't want to be a one-year wonder. We don't want 2011 to be known as the greatest year in Denver lacrosse history."
It's a completely different mindset from a year ago when the Pioneers program was still considered in the building stage. Because of its location and coach, it was a foregone conclusion Tierney would turn Denver into a power.
But the time frame got pushed up when Denver upset Johns Hopkins, 14-9, in the quarterfinals, and the Pioneers joined Virginia, Maryland and Cornell on Memorial Day Weekend.
Tierney is trying not to stay in the past, but also not look too far into the future.
"You don't tell the New York Giants to totally forget about last season when they go into the new season," said Tierney. "You don't tell Virginia they aren't the defending national championships. You can't totally get rid of 2011 and roll into 2012."
"What we have tried to get across is that we can't go about it differently," said Tierney. "These kinds have brought into what we've been talking about and there is a certain work ethic, a certain style that we don't want to get away from. We want to be a regular participant in the tournament."
The program got a big lift with the upset win against Hopkins. It's one thing to make it to the tournament field, and beat Villanova in the first round. But when you beat Hopkins, it gets everybody's attention because the Blue Jays are synonymous with the sport.
Tierney should know. He spent three years at Homewood as a Hopkins assistant before turning Princeton into a national power in the 1990's.
Tierney has already seen some of the results from the win. When he first got to Denver, Tierney had 25 juniors on campus for unofficial recruiting visits, and about three to four committed.
Of the 15 the following year, he signed about seven or eight. Last year, he got 12 commitments from the 15 that visited. By next season, 22 states and three Provinces of Canada will be represented by the 45 players on the Denver roster.
Few teams, including Syracuse and Hopkins, have that kind of drawing power.
"I thought we had a wide base at Princeton because once and a while we would get a player from California, Massachusetts, or Virginia," said Tierney. "But now we're getting the top kids out of Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota. Those areas may not be as deep in talent as Baltimore or New York, but its OK when you're getting the great player[s] from those states."
Denver is also getting its share of Canadians. The Pioneers have four and three are dominating in attackman Mark Matthews (46 goals, 24 assists last year) and midfielders Cameron Flint (27, 11) and Jeremy Noble (18, 16). Combined with midfielder Chase Carrere (19, 2) and top feeding attackman Alex Demopoulous (30, 28), the Pioneers were No. 4 in scoring offense last season averaging 12.30 per game.
Offensive coordinator Matt Brown, a native of Burnaby British Columbia, has done a great job of mixing the American and Canadian styles.
That's hard to believe considering Tierney, when at Princeton, was extremely deliberate on offense. If Princeton scored five goals in a game that was considered a shootout.
"Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? You just got to take him out of the state," said Tierney, laughing. "It's easier for a coach to adjust to 46 guys than for 46 guys to adjust to a coach."
"If you go back to 1996, 97, 98, we had some pretty gaudy numbers, and we always didn't get it done," said Tierney. "I think our style hurt us and that resulted in some six and seven win seasons. I'd still prefer to win a four goal game 8-4 instead of 18-14. You can talk to them [the Canadians] about ball control, you can talk to them about ball possession all you want, but if they see a shot, they are going to take it."
Defense will be an area in which the Pioneers will struggle early. Denver might be shifting as many as six new faces in front of sophomore goalie Jamie Faush, who had a .557 save percentage a year ago.
Because of the inexperience, Tierney will be teaching those multiple slide packages again just like he did at Princeton.
But no one in college lacrosse will be feeling sorry for him this year.
"Now quite honestly, we're pointing our finger at Denver and saying, 'We've got to catch them.' " said Loyola coach Charley Toomey. "I think a lot of people are doing that."