The tradition of Denison lacrosse that was built by the likes of Rix Yard and Tommy Thomsen and bolstered by Michael Caravana spans generations.
For the majority of Denison lacrosse alumni, playing the sport as an undergraduate is just the start. The Denison experience proves to be the catalyst that is fueling the game of lacrosse and continuing its extraordinary growth and popularity around the globe.
This summer, 46 countries gathered in Israel for the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships and Denison University had a hand in it.
Kevin McKee '02 played two seasons of lacrosse for Caravana in 1999 and 2000. He was a part of Denison's first NCAA Final Four team in 1999 before leaving the team to focus on academics midway through his junior year. Even after leaving the varsity program, McKee was already giving back to the game he loved. He started the Granville High School Club Lacrosse team that has since gone varsity and become one of the top programs in the state.
After graduating from Denison with a major in history, McKee received his master's degree from Quinnipiac and was a teacher and coach Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. It was there where he met his wife, Emily, a former lacrosse and field hockey All-American at the College of Wooster. From there he spent time teaching and coaching at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.
Kevin and Emily shared a passion for travel and his study abroad experience was one of the highlights of his undergraduate experience at Denison.
When the opportunity for both to work at the American School in Switzerland (TASIS) came about in 2011 it felt like the perfect time in both of their lives to make the move.
The McKee's were off to the Alps of Switzerland along with their two daughters who were four, and two, at the time.
With Kevin working as the dean of students while also teaching AP classes in government and politics at the high school and Emily serving as the director of admissions for TASIS there wasn't a lot of free time for the young family, at first.
Regardless, lacrosse was calling him back and four years ago he never dreamed the places it would take him.
Giving Back to the Game
In 2014, McKee had the itch to return to the lacrosse field. McKee lives just miles from the border of Northern Italy in an Italian speaking region of Switzerland. He found a club team in Milan and began playing for the first time in years.
No one knew that four years later he would be leading Team Italy into the World Lacrosse Championships.
So how does it happen? How does a school administrator/history teacher by day end up as the head coach of a national team?
His former coach and mentor, Mike Caravana, plays a key supporting role in this story.
"In the spring of 2017 Italy was looking for a coach and I had an idea," said McKee. "I agreed to be the assistant coach if a college coach would be the head coach."
And not just any college coach, McKee had Caravana in mind from the start.
"Kevin reached out to me and I had been thinking about getting involved in international lacrosse again," said Caravana. "I had experience as a Team USA assistant in 2005-06 and I thought this was a good opportunity."
Caravana agreed to be the head coach with McKee and his son, Nick Caravana '15, slated to be his assistants.
There were six tryouts, three in Italy (Torino, Rome, and Tuscany) and three in the United States. Caravana attended the tryout in Tuscany and was there for tryouts in the Baltimore area. Each team was permitted to have five non-passport holding citizens on the team but either the player's grandparents or parents had to have been born in Italy.
"It's a new game in Italy and there is no central hub yet," said Caravana. "A lot of the Italian players were introduced to the game as exchange students."
Caravana was beginning to feel the weight of his decision. With his Denison team contending for a national championship, and after having just served as Denison's acting head field hockey coach in the fall the time that was necessary to dedicate to this project wasn't there. It helped that Caravana had complete faith in McKee to see it through.
After the vote of confidence from his former coach, the final decision was in the hands of the Italian Lacrosse Federation. They were in favor of McKee and asked him to take on two Italian assistant coaches.
Time to Play
With the team formed the American members of Team Italy and the native Italians met for the first time in Netanya, Israel. There was plenty of team building and the team clicked immediately.
"The average age of our team was about 24," noted McKee. "We had architects, psychologists, and guys right of out college giving up two weeks of their summer to follow their passion and compete."
There were scrimmages against Switzerland and Spain and then it was time for the World Championships. Eight games were played over a nine-day span. The tournament began with group play where Team Italy rolled to wins over Turkey, Peru. After winning the group, Italy faced Sweden and trailed 6-1 early but battled back to win in the fourth quarter.
After the win over Sweden, Italy was into the round of 16 but a loss to Ireland and a triple-overtime loss to the Philippines took Italy out of the race for a world championship.
Over the course of the tournament, Caravana was able to remain engaged thanks to ESPN+ live coverage at all hours of the night. Caravana texted and emailed McKee to break down games and upcoming opponents.
"His presence was felt," said McKee of Caravana.
For Caravana he was able to appreciate another alum of the Denison lacrosse program who has continued to give back to the game after graduation.
"Kevin's passion and dedication to the game is significant," said Caravana. He is another thread of Denison Lacrosse out there in the world and I'm happy that his involvement in the game has continued."