The Perfect Ending: Australia Holds a Special Place in the Lowe Family Legacy

The final play of Darren Lowe’s Hall of Fame lacrosse career ended with him laying on the turf … and he couldn’t have been happier.

Lowe had just passed the ball to his brother, Kevin, as Team USA ran out the clock to beat Canada to win the 2002 world championship in Australia. Nearly three decades earlier, their father, Alan, had also suited up in red, white and blue to help the U.S. win the 1974 world championship in Australia.

“It was beyond a dream come true,” Darren Lowe said. “You couldn’t have written a better script. My brother played a couple of years after that and I asked ‘Why are you doing that? Don’t’ disturb the memory.’”

Darren hasn’t played in a competitive game since that gold medal victory, but the sport remains close to his heart. He coaches at the Benjamin School in Florida and serves on the National Team sub-committee for US Lacrosse. He chaired the player selection committee for the 2018 U.S. men’s team that eventually won gold in Israel.

Being a part of that process brought him back to one of his favorite lacrosse memories, sharing a family hug with his father and brother in the dorms at the University of Delaware following the tryouts for the 2002 U.S. team. Darren and Kevin, who starred for Ivy League rivals Brown and Princeton, respectively, made the team and would be reunited on the lacrosse field.

It wasn’t a slam dunk.

Major League Lacrosse played its first full season in 2001, and tryouts for the 2002 team were held that summer. MLL contracts at the time did not allow its players to play in any outside lacrosse competition during the season. The sport’s premier players were put in a tough situation — play in the new professional league or try out for the U.S. team, with no guarantee of making the team.

Kevin Lowe had felt that pain once before. Hampered by an injury during tryouts for the 1998 U.S. team, he did not make the squad. Darren could relate. He missed the cut in 1994, but made the 1998 team following the tryouts at Princeton, Kevin’s alma mater. His elation at his own accomplishment was tempered by what he knew his brother was feeling.

“We rode from Princeton and I dropped him off at the Newark airport,” Darren said. “It was a quiet ride. Part of me was heartbroken. There were a lot of emotions and we didn’t talk about it too much. He hurt himself during the tryouts and kept playing. It wasn’t his time.”

When the opportunity rolled around four years later, Kevin Lowe was torn.

“Darren was kind of at the end of career, and he said, ‘I’m doing it, do it with me,’” Kevin Lowe said. “The answer wasn’t yes right away. It was a difficult decision to make. In the MLL, I was drafted by the Long Island team and I was happy to play for them. When push came to shove, I wanted to play for my country. That was more of what I wanted to do.”

Making the team to extend the family legacy meant a lot to him, but his decision resonated even more a couple of months later when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists.

“I was working in downtown Manhattan in September 2001 as the team was starting to train for the next summer,” Kevin Lowe said. “I was basically right across the street from the World Trade Center. After all of that happened, I was very happy with my decision. That made it a little bit more special for me.”

Seeing the brothers on the same team was especially gratifying for their father, a star at Maryland who went on to a legendary coaching career at Manhasset (N.Y.) High School.

“The hardest two games I ever watched was when they played against each other in college,” Alan Lowe said. “You go to the game and one of your sons is losing, you really start pressing for him. One year, Kevin won. One year, Darren’s team won.”

It was a much better feeling to see them suited up together.

“Darren and Kevin really played well together,” Alan said. “Probably one of my proudest feelings was when they played together.”

The first real test for the Lowe brothers in a U.S. uniform came on Memorial Day Weekend in 2002. The U.S. team played an exhibition game against the New Jersey Pride, an MLL franchise that featured four players from the 1998 U.S. team on the roster. A relatively inexperienced U.S. roster was even more limited with some of its top young players, including Ryan Boyle and Michael Powell, participating in the NCAA tournament that weekend.

“That was our first time competing and I think a lot of people thought they would beat us,” Kevin Lowe said. “I think Darren and I took a real leadership role on the team that day.”

Darren poured in eight assists and Kevin scored a pair of goals as the U.S. team beat the Pride 14-10 and opened some eyes.

“That set the tone for our run to win a gold medal,” Darren said. “There aren’t a lot of U.S. teams that haven’t lost [in an exhibition], but I didn’t want it to be that night. I was very focused on performing that night. I think it was important for the confidence of going to play against pro players from other countries.”

When the team arrived in Australia, there were still doubters. Canada featured proven stars like Paul Gait and John Grant Jr. One local publication rated the American squad as the third best team in the field despite the U.S. having won the previous five championships.

“I was 30 years old and had accomplished quite a bit,” Kevin said. “Being treated as an underdog lit a fire under me.”

A lackluster final exhibition win didn’t inspire anyone, and the team had a long meeting right after, led by defenseman Todd Rassas. Rassas, a Secret Service agent who had been in Manhattan the day the towers fell, gave an impassioned speech that helped focus the team and they never wavered.

Kevin scored four goals in each of the first two U.S. victories and the U.S. rolled through the competition unbeaten, including a 14-9 pool play win over Canada in which the Canadians tried to take the U.S. team out of its game, committing 29 penalties.

A rematch with the Canadians awaited in the gold medal game. The U.S. overcame a two-goal halftime deficit and pulled away from a fourth quarter tie to post an 18-15 win to wrap up its sixth straight championship.

Things were very different when their father played for the world title in Australia.

“I think we were away 39 days,” Alan said. “We went around the world — went one way and came back the other. It was strange being with the other teams, I didn’t know anybody. The nice part of it was the socialization.”

Only four teams played that year with the U.S. beating Australia, Canada and England in round-robin play to win the championship. When his sons played in 2002, there were 12 teams competing. The Lowes got the chance to see how much the sport has grown internationally when the trio came to Denver for the world championship in 2014, which featured 38 nations competing.

“There was talk about more teams coming in,” Alan said. “I knew US Lacrosse had programs going overseas and Tom Hayes did a lot. I didn’t know it would grow that fast. The boys and I flew out to Denver and I couldn’t believe how many teams were there.”

Kevin continued on playing after the world championship, helping the Lizards win the MLL championship in 2003 before a knee injury the following year ended his playing career. He now coaches his three sons and runs the youth program in Chatham, N.J.

In addition to their shared world championship memories, all three Lowes have been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Three greats with a common bond halfway around the world. The 2002 U.S. head coach, Jack Emmer, had been an assistant coach when Alan Lowe played for the U.S. team in 1974. One of the 2002 assistant coaches, Ron Fraser, had been a member of the 1974 team.

“That was a really special time, 2002,” Kevin said. “I had a pretty good ride for lacrosse and that was certainly one of them.”

Memories of Australia are never far from Darren’s mind.

“There’s not a day that goes by when I go on a run that I don’t think about it.”

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