It took two unexpected turn of events for former Gilman lacrosse standout Gordie Koerber to end up playing at the University of Denver, one of four teams left in this year's Division I NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.
Until seventh grade, Koerber was the goalie for his lacrosse team before suffering two injuries made him change his mind about the position.
After taking two close range shots to his chest just days apart, Koerber's parents, Bryan and Gillian, were fearful of additional injuries, especially as he faced larger, stronger players. One of the biggest concerns was Commotio cordis, a disruption of the heart's rhythm that is often times fatal. Koerber and his parents didn't want to take any more chances. From then on out, they agreed Koerber should play attack.
"If you get hit in between [heartbeats], you have no time," said Gordie's mother, Gillian. "The writing was on the wall. I just wasn't willing to risk him dying or a serious injury because of a lacrosse position. I said, 'We'll get you an attack stick, we'll do whatever you need, you just have to reinvent yourself.' He was very willing to do that, and started from scratch."
Though Koerber had to adapt to a new position, the transition came easy to him. Gillian remembers Gordie spending hours in their backyard working on his shot and stick skills, losing balls in the railroad track behind their house as missed shots went wide of the net.
Koerber made Gilman's varsity squad as a sophomore and tallied 69 goals in his career. After his junior year, he was invited to the Warrior 40 Mid-Atlantic regional camp — a three-day showcase of some of the nation's best talent — where college coaches would come to scout potential recruits.
But after the camp, Koerber didn't garner much interest from Division I schools. By the end of his junior season, Koerber was uncommitted, while many of his teammates had committed to programs as sophomores and juniors. Programs showed interest in Koerber but nothing came to fruition. Denver was among the schools Koerber was interested in and he had spoken with the Pioneer coaching staff frequently, but communication suddenly dropped off.
The summer before Koerber's senior year, Denver head coach Bill Tierney came to watch him play. Tierney inquired about Koerber with Gilman assistant coach Owen Daly, who played for Tierney at Princeton in the early 2000s.
Tierney believed Koerber had committed to Maryland, but when Daly informed him otherwise, Tierney and the Denver coaching staff immediately reconnected with Koerber to begin the recruiting process — again.
"We didn't think he took any interest in us, he thought we didn't take any interest in him," Denver associate head coach Matt Brown said. "It was a lapse in communication."
A miscommunication, a few phone calls, and a visit later, Koerber had finally found a fit.
"Denver's a great place," Koerber said. "The people are great out here, the coaching staff is unbelievable — I feel like they're one of the best in the country."
After signing with Denver in September, Koerber was invited to play in the Under Armor All-American Lacrosse Classic, where he scored three goals — one of which was the eventual game-winner — and was named MVP.
"I watched him play with his Gilman team, he did a great job," Brown said. "He kind of slimmed down a little bit, grew a little bit taller, narrower in the hips and developed into quite a nice athlete [and] over the summer with him playing as well as he did in the Under Armor All-American game, we knew we had a good one in our hands."
And he's definitely impressed his coaches after his freshman year at Denver. Koerber, who is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is fifth on the team in points with 24 and has started 10 of the 14 games, including the two NCAA tournament games that the Pioneers have won.
"He came in and right away he made an impact," Brown said. "One thing I love about Gordie is his confidence in his play. He's a confident young man, he can put the ball in the back of the net, he's very highly skilled."
Now, Koerber and the Denver lacrosse team are in the Final Four, facing Syracuse on Saturday. A win would give the Pioneers a shot at their first national championship in program history.
"Gordie's father, Bryan, when he played for Johns Hopkins, they lost to Syracuse in 1983 in the title game," Gillian said. "We're sort of hoping the Denver Pioneers can right that ship for the Koerber family and Gordie can get a win over Syracuse for his dad."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun