A History of the Denison Lacrosse Program

The Big Red entered the 1999 season on a run of success, having reached the NCAA tournament in four of the previous five seasons. As for on-field talent, it returned a pair of gifted seniors in Justin Walker and Dave Beaver. Walker had led the team in points the previous season (43), and Beaver was a reigning All-America defenseman. In addition to the senior presence, the Big Red was confident in the future of freshman goalie Peter Royer '02.

The team's talent helped them finish the regular season with an 11-2 record, and it entered the NCAA tournament as the third-ranked team in the country. In the first round, Denison was slated to meet conference arch-rival Ohio Wesleyan.

In four previous tournament meetings, the Battling Bishops had the Big Red's number. But this time, they vanquished previous shortcomings thanks, in large part, to an inspired performance by its first-year goalie. Royer posted 20 saves, leading Denison to its first NCAA tournament victory, 12-8.

Caravana, Royer and company continued to exact revenge on old foes when they reached the quarterfinals. Behind the offense of sophomore Sean O'Brien '01 and freshman Ryan Berger '02, Denison defeated Washington & Lee, which had sent the Big Red packing in the previous year's first round. O'Brien and Berger each scored four times in a 17-7 drubbing of the Generals. For the first time in program history, Denison was on its way to the NCAA semifinals.

Denison lost that semifinal match-up to Salisbury, the eventual national champion. However, Caravana's men had reached a pivotal milestone. In its 10th NCAA tournament appearance, the Big Red notched the program's first tournament win and reached its first Final Four.

Two years later, the Big Red did it again. It boasted a program-high six All-Americans in 2001, and many of the players who led the 1999 team had grown into veterans. Now in his junior season, Royer was named the NCAA Division III Goalie of the Year. Among the five other All-Americans were Berger and O'Brien, the latter of which led the Big Red in scoring for the third consecutive year.

Denison downed Hampden-Sydney in the first round to earn a rematch against Salisbury in the quarterfinals. Not only had the Sea Gulls knocked the Big Red out in 1999, but they had also edged Denison by one goal earlier in the season. This time, however, DU gained revenge with hat tricks by juniors Kip Hale '02 and Jon Staunton '02 to reach the semifinals against Gettysburg. Denison fell to the Bullets, 13-7, but the 1999 and 2001 teams had raised the bar for the program's future teams.

"It's hard not to look at the past success of Denison lacrosse," said Smith. "You look at 1999 and 2001, they went to the Final Four and that's what you're always striving to accomplish any given season."

The Big Red has not made it back to the NCAA semifinals since 2001 but has still maintained its national success in an ever-evolving and growing lacrosse landscape. Denison reached the NCAA tournament eight consecutive years from 2005 to 2012. During that time, it won seven tournament games and reached the quarterfinals twice.

"Being one of the nation's top teams year in and year out, being able to compete for the conference title year in and year out ... I think all those kinds of things are really what we're proud of as a program," said Caravana.

A portion of the success over the past nine years would come without Caravana at the helm. In 2006, he left Granville to coach prep lacrosse at Woodberry Forest in Virginia. For him, the decision to go to Virginia was family-related. The coach saw the opportunity to provide his sons with free tuition at one of the finest boarding schools in the country. He would also get the chance to coach them at Woodberry.

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