Denison's Michael Caravana: "Maybe We're Pretty Good"
Mike Caravana could tell the direction I was attempting to steer our conversation. Just by the tone of his voice, it was clear he understood I was trying to make his Denison team out to be some kind of party crasher to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals after the Big Red went down to Lynchburg and rocked the third-ranked and second-seeded Hornets, 10-5.
Caravana was having none of it.
"We made the final eight three years ago and had a very good team," he said. "Last year, we lost to RIT, the No. 2 team in the country, in overtime. We just beat Lynchburg. All of these games have been away. So maybe we're pretty good."
He wasn't nasty about it, and, as he told me, Carvana is not claiming to be an "elite" team (a distinction he thinks only Salisbury holds this spring), but he was eager to dispel the notion that just because Denison isn't located on the East Coast automatically makes them of lesser quality.
"Most of the western teams don't get a lot of respect because we don't play a lot of teams 'Back East,'" Caravana said. "Some of us don't have as many opportunities to play as many strong teams as everybody else, but it doesn't mean we're not good. This is the growth of the game."
Denison was very close to not even getting a shot at Lynchburg as they needed a backhanded, no-look, bounce shot from Alex Hardt with a minute left in regulation to tie Adrian in the first round and then a Cory Couture strike in double overtime to win it. For Caravana, Adrian is a prime example of a team program getting dismissed just because they aren't in the right conference or right location.
"Adrian is a very good team," he said. "They have a lot of Canadians on the team, so they can score easily. They won 17 straight games. I don't care who you are, if you win 17 straight games, you get confidence in what you're doing and how you're doing it. We knew they'd be a dangerous team as the season went on, and they were. They are a formidable foe."
Another formidable foe awaits on Wednesday when the Big Red make their second seven-hour trip to Owings Mills to take on Stevenson. In the first meeting on April 7, the Mustangs jumped on Denison early, amassing an 8-2 lead in the first half with four of those goals coming from Justin Lea. The Big Red gained a measure of confidence by controlling the pace of play in the second half in the 12-9 loss.
"Stevenson is very strong early in the game; that's one of the strengths that they have," Caravana said. "We have to manage the first quarter well. We've got to keep doing what we're doing, which is winning some faceoffs and making some saves. Take care of the ball and not turning it over. Having very few unforced errors. That will be very important in the first quarter and the first half."
That's easier said than done with a Stevenson team clicking on all cylinders and playing at home. Regardless of the outcome, Denison has already proved that they're a pretty good team.