Eric Koch was 7 years old when his predecessor, Mike Caravana, took charge of the Denison men’s lacrosse team.
It’s never easy to follow a longtime coach, especially one who had a run of success that began about the same time Homer, Bart and the rest of The Simpsons hit television screens in 1989.
Entering his first season, Koch knew he would make some tweaks and changes to the way Caravana ran the Big Red program.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the winning.
Koch, 39, led Denison to an NCAC tournament title – the schoo’s seventh championship since the conference tourney format began in 2013 – and to the third round of the Division III NCAA tournament. The club finished with a 16-5 mark, the fifth-most wins in the program’s history.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Koch said. “We have a really talented group and I was lucky to inherit a group of seven seniors who were driven and motivated in light of the last two years.”
The Big Red reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinals in 2019 and opened the following year 4-0 before the season, and just about everything around it, was halted due to the pandemic. The squad played just 10 times in 2021, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament in what would be Caravana’s final game.
The legendary coach won 320 games in his time at Denison, which began in 1990 and produced 15 NCAC regular-season titles and 11 trips to the NCCA quarterfinals. (Caravana spent three years coaching a Virginia boarding school before returning to Denison in 2009.)
Koch was familiar with Caravana and his legacy, having coached against him several times while at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
Some new coaches like to distance themselves from the preceding one, but Koch reached out to Caravana, meeting him for lunches and asking him to address the team before its rivalry game with Ohio Wesleyan.
“He is a really cool and unique resource,” Koch said. “I felt like there was nobody better to offer some perspective and help set the tone for a game like that.”
Senior Michael Bomes said Koch used the offseason to build relationships with individual players, easing the transition between coaches. The biggest adjustment for the team was the style of play. Koch is defensive oriented and his schemes are different than those employed by Caravana. Nonetheless, the Big Red scored 323 goals, third-most in the program’s history.
The new coach tapped into the seniors’ desire to make up for the missed opportunities caused by the pandemic, Bomes said.
“We lost in the Elite Eight our freshman year, and then we were kind of robbed of two years of lacrosse,” Bomes said. “There (was) a hunger to get back to the tournament. (Coach) has definitely done a good job of recognizing our goals and understanding we have a high expectation here.”