October 27, 2011

Fall Ball Brief

The Big Red Have Tools for Big Run

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Denison head coach Mike Caravana said senior Nick Farrell (above) should be one of the best poles in the country this season after earning All-American honors in 2011.
© Jace Delgado

During the course of an NCAA tournament, there are plenty of intriguing results that get swept away as attention moves to the championship game. One of those results last year was Denison's overtime loss to undefeated RIT in the second round when the Tigers had to rally from a 12-10 deficit in the final five minutes of the game to secure the win. In the wake of that contest, RIT coach Jake Coon lauded the Big Red, calling them one of the fastest teams he had seen all year.

That near miss against a premier team once again confirmed that no matter the year or the regular season results, Denison is always a handful when the postseason rolls around.

"When we finished up the season, we ended up playing the No. 4 team in the country in Stevenson, and we were defeated handily. Then we played the No. 2 team in RIT and we lost in overtime," said Big Red head coach Mike Caravana. "We were the classic example of a team that thought we were good enough to compete with the best teams, and we weren't on one day, and we were on another day. You know what I mean?"

With a dangerous attack led by a senior Corey Couture, a massive midfield unit paced by Davis Lukens (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and an aggressive defense anchored by All-American Nick Farrell, it's a solid bet that the Big Red will not only once again be playing in the second season, but they'll be a threat to go deep in the tourney.

- Fall Ball Priority: Caravana didn't feel the need to overly stress one particular aspect this fall – "Nothing really stood out that we were clearly deficient at," he said – but when pressed, he put a mild emphasis on shooting.

"For us, it's a matter of consistency in shooting," Caravana said. "When we shoot pretty well, we think we can compete with any team in the country. When we don't, then we're challenged. Shooting is one of those things where people change from year to year. It changes through graduation and maturation. It's just something that we really try to work on in terms of making sure that we're taking good shots. Not necessarily scoring them, but taking good, intelligent shots. Maybe that's the one thing, but it wasn't overwhelmingly so."

- Know This Name: Nick Verklin. The Annapolis (Severn) native didn't get much burn last spring (1g, 1a in nine games), but he has returned for his junior season ready to be a big contributor. Big, literally. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Verklin will follow in a long line of rugged, athletic midfielders for the Big Red.

"He didn't play much for us last year at all, and he's running on our first line right now," Caravana said. "He's a classic Division III type of kid who, through practice, hard work and repetition, has improved. He was kind of late bloomer. He has a high lacrosse IQ, and now you put that together with his size, speed and athleticism, we're getting the best of Nick. It's not always easy to stick with it when you're not having success, but he's done that."

- America's Team: In talking with Caravana for any extended period of time, it becomes clear he is quite proud that his program finds quality athletes from all over the country. The Big Red boasted players from 17 different states last year.

"One of the things we feel strongly about is we are a national school," Caravana said. "We played the game against RIT last year and our starting attack consisted of kids from Illinois, California and Colorado. On the field at the same time was a midfield made up of kids from Texas, Virginia and Georgia. That's who we are."

The one drawback? Denison can't feasibly put together an alumni game.

"We looked at it the other day and I think we've only got 25 alums within a two-hour radius of us," Caravana said. "The rest are all over the country."

- One Last Dance: The 2012 season marks the final one for Denison and the rest of the NCAC schools as Pool B programs, which is reserved for independents or conferences that don't meet the seven-team minimum for an automatic qualifying bid. Hiram (Ohio) and DePauw (Ind.) are slated to join the league in 2013, meaning the NCAC will have an AQ (Pool A), with the remainder thrown into the at-large field (Pool C).

Does this move mean much?

"Sure it does," Caravana said. "It's going to change our schedule a little bit because we lose a weekend of possible travel with the conference tournament. Maybe we can get a little more aggressive with the out-of-conference schedule to a certain degree. I don't think it will drastically change ours because we've played a pretty difficult schedule over the years."

- Fourth Year Stride: Caravana is entering the fourth year of his second stint with the Big Red – he coached at the Woodberry Forest (Va.) School from 2006-08 – and that's always an important mark. There's three full classes of players who have been recruited by the current staff and everyone can feel like they are working from the same set of notes.

"We've got a good infusion of freshmen and we're happy about where we're going," said Caravana. "Now in my fourth year back, we've got kids used to how we run things. It certainly wasn't run poorly before, but it's just our own personal touch. We're on the same page of what we expect from them. We have our leadership of seniors and juniors that will help incorporate the freshmen and sophomores, and there's a comfort level there. We've got a great group of kids we're confident about, and we feel like we can be one of the top teams in the country if we stay healthy and continue to work hard."

- Verdict: Denison will be in the NCAA tournament again this year, as the Big Red will be the best program among the Pool B contenders. The question with Denison is how far it can advance in the tournament. Assuming they come out on top of the NCAC, a lot of it will boil down to how the Big Red perform in the non-conference schedule.

The four key games are Washington & Lee, Haverford and St. Mary's early in the season and then the annual match-up with Stevenson, which will occur in mid-April in Owings Mills. If the Big Red can grab three or more wins against those foes, they should set themselves up for a reasonable draw. Anything less than that will likely mean a demanding road in the NCAAs, but Denison has proven in the past that they can run with any team in the country on any given day.

- News & Notes: Denison defeated Detroit Mercy, 10-7 in one of its fall ball scrimmages...When the NCAC moves to an NCAA automatic qualifying conference in 2013, it will institute a four-team league tournament...In addition to the four aforementioned non-conference games, Denison will also face Centre, Mt. St. Joseph's and Otterbein...The Big Red graduates nine players off last year's roster...Denison finished with a 10-3 record and a No. 16 ranking in the final USILA poll.

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