When 23-year-old senior attackman Steve Pontrello came to UNC as a freshman, the goal was simple — win a national championship.
Three years later, and the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team is still in the midst of a 23-year Final Four drought.
That’s right. Pontrello, the team’s leading point-getter, was about 2 months old. He’s the only current UNC player who was alive the last time the Tar Heels made an appearance in the Final Four.
But with a quarterfinal win against Notre Dame this weekend, Pontrello and Co. have a chance to change that.
Despite UNC’s history, success hasn’t been a goal. It’s been an expectation, for the Tar Heels the past three years. With an all-time attack trio and a strong corps of young players, the Tar Heels were supposed to be going places.
But now, Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter and Marcus Holman have come and gone, and those “young” players are seniors. Pontrello was forced to move from offensive midfielder to attackman in an attempt to make up for the loss of school’s all-time leading point-getter, and the depth UNC previously touted on offensive is merely a memory.
To say the door is closing on the Tar Heels would be more than just an understatement.The team is scoring almost two fewer goals a game. They’re giving up just as many goals per game, and they’re clearing the ball at a rate (84%) that is 5 percent lower than last year.
The team is, simply put, lacking the traditionally agreed upon formula necessary to win a championship.
Going into selection Sunday, the odds UNC would make it to the Final Four were the lowest they’d been since Pontrello’s highly-touted recruiting class came to Chapel Hill.
Yet somehow — with a win against Notre Dame this weekend — they have a chance.
This isn’t the team UNC expected to make it all the way, but this also isn’t the team anyone expected to come back from 10-15 deficit to beat Notre Dame during the regular season.
While the odds are against UNC winning a title, the team certainly has a shot. The door might be closing, or even closed, but if Pontrello can use those first-team All-ACC wheels of his, he just might be able to bust the door open before it latches completely shut on the senior.