UNC men's lacrosse wins season opener against Air Force
Youth is often associated with high energy.
But in the first half of No. 7 North Carolina men’s lacrosse’s 16-8 win against Air Force, youth meant a tenuous start for the defense.
The Tar Heels started three freshmen, including goalkeeper Kieran Burke, in their season opener Friday.
Coach Joe Breschi said first-game nerves led to UNC allowing six first-half goals.
“We were just overzealous,” Breschi said. “We were giving them opportunities instead of playing our style.”
It wasn’t all Burke’s fault, though. The defense shared responsibility for the sloppy play.
“We haven’t played that poorly in a while,” Breschi said. “We were just overanxious to slide and help each other.”
Junior midfielder Ryan Creighton said the defense needed time to develop chemistry.
“It really comes down to communication and trusting each other,” Creighton said. “Once you trust each other, I think the defense will start doing better.”
Against Air Force, defensive leaders Creighton and Kieran McDonald, a senior defenseman, delivered a halftime pep talk in an attempt to improve the defense’s play.
“We had some new starters to the defense,” McDonald said. “We just had to get past that.”
In the second half, with the veterans’ words of wisdom fresh in their minds, the young defensive players held Air Force to two goals.
An improved second-half showing from Burke was key to the defensive turnaround.
“In the second half, he had some great saves that probably should have been goals,” McDonald said. “For a freshman, that’s pretty impressive.”
With redshirt senior goalkeeper Steven Rastivo, who started all 17 games last season, on the bench, Breschi didn’t need to keep Burke in the goal after his poor first half of play.
But he was determined to allow the youngster to make up for a one-save performance in the first half.
“I just thought he was nervous,” Breschi said. “I wanted to give him an opportunity to fight through it.”
With 10 saves in the second half, Burke did just that, helping his team break away from the outmatched Falcons late in the game.
The team also did a better job clearing the ball downfield to the offense in the second half.
After two failed clear attempts in the opening periods, the team went 10-for-10 clearing the ball in the second half.
Though UNC boasts a potent attack, the Tar Heels’ defensive ability to avoid poor stretches of play will be crucial going forward if the team wants to compete for a title.
McDonald is confident the defense can do that.
“It was our first game this season,” McDonald said. “Next game we’ll be ready to go.”
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