Zach Miller, who developed his love for lacrosse in Western New York’s Native American community, is now an NCAA champion.
Miller and his University of Denver teammates captured the NCAA Division I men’s championship on Monday. The Pioneers defeated Maryland in the finals, 10-5, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Miller had a goal and two assists in the game and made the all-tournament team. Also, he extended his point streak to 37 games, one of the longest in the nation. A sophomore midfielder, Miller finished the season with 26 goals and 35 assists.
It’s the first national title in any sport except for men’s ice hockey and skiing for Denver, which beat top-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday. Wesley Berg had five goals and Ryan LaPlante added 13 saves for the Pioneers.
Miller who is from the hamlet of Steamburg in Cattaraugus County is a member of Seneca Nation, and played high school lacrosse at the Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ont. Last year he was part of the Iroquois Nationals team that earned a bronze medal at the World Lacrosse Championships in Denver. When he’s home after the school year he sharpens his game playing at the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Community Center.
Bill Tierney coached Prince-ton to six Division I championships before he was lured away from the Ivy League school in 2009 to create the varsity program at Denver.
Miller is the first Native American to play under Tierney, and the coach said he didn’t need a lot of convincing after watching Miller play for Hill.
“It doesn’t take a genius to watch this guy play and say, ‘Ooh, this guy’s good,” Tierney told the Salamanca Press last year. “We just followed him through film and he was a natural for us. There are a handful of guys that jump out at you and he was one of them.”
One reason Miller, who loves hunting and fishing, chose Denver is its proximity to the Rocky Mountains.
Denver is the 10th different school to win the NCAA title and the first from west of the Mississippi. Every previous champion came from a state that borders on the Atlantic Ocean. The title reflects a changing lacrosse landscape as the sport grows in popularity and geographic reach.
“I hope what it does is give some athletic directors some courage and some school presidents some courage, instead of hiding behind cost and hiding behind Title IX,” said Tierney, the first coach to win national titles with two different schools. “This is a sport that means something in our country.”