Tuesday, April 26, 2016

These Aren't The Tar Heels We're Used To, But That Might Be A Good Thing

The 2016 season for the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team hasn’t been like any other in the past four years or so. The team lacks the greatness of a Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter or Marcus Holman who were able to put up all-time offensive numbers for the program. They lack depth at the offensive midfield that’s always allowed them to pressure defenses in platoon-like fashion for 60 minutes. They even lack a rock-solid wall of a goalkeeper like what Kieran Burke has provided the past three years. What has that equated to? UNC started the season with its worst record in the past 5 years and experienced one of the lowest media poll rankings it’s had since coach Joe Breschi started his tenure. Yet somehow, by beating top-ranked Notre Dame 17-15 in a hotly contested comeback, the Tar Heels didn’t stop this trend of breaking trends. The instead exacerbated it as they snapped a three season long losing streak against the Fighting Irish. The Tar Heels didn’t make it easy on themselves either. Despite being in a tied game going into halftime, the Tar Heels allowed a six-point third quarter and looked flat on offense. Every time the Fighting Irish took the ball down the field, it seemed like they were netting a goal, and not a single UNC attacker was able to get by his man or force the defense to rotate. With a five point deficit, things were looking bleak for the Tar Heels. All that ended when Shane Simpson hooked up with Luke Goldstock spark an improbable run with less than five minutes left in the game. From that goal onward, UNC’s ability to win faceoff after faceoff flipped the game on its head. Stephen Kelly feasted on Fighting Irish faceoff specialists winning 7-10 in the fourth quarter as violations from earlier in the half made Notre Dame’s specialists trigger shy. UNC attacker, now filled with adrenaline, were attacking an exhausted defense, and the depth issues that have plagued the team all season felt fictitious. The revitalized Tar Heels capped off the game with five goals in the last five minutes to upset Notre Dame in the most epic fashion -- the same sort of fashion that Notre Dame has used to beat UNC the past three years by a combined three points.
UNC began this season by breaking trends in all the wrong ways. But if the team can use Saturday’s success as a catapult into the post-season, the Tar Heels could very well see yet another trend broken on their way to the school’s first Final Four since 1993.

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