UNC men's lacrosse team out for revenge against Denver in playoffs

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UNC defenseman Jordan Smith holds off a Lehigh attackman in one of the Tar Heels’ best defensive performances all season.

In the first round of the NCAA playoffs last year, the Denver Pioneers handed the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team a heartbreaking loss in front of a home crowd at Fetzer Field.

The loss still sits prominently in the minds of the current players — and this Sunday, when the Tar Heels take on Denver in a quarterfinal match-up in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, UNC is looking for revenge.

“Last year was a devastating loss,” senior captain Marcus Holman said. “They couldn’t have scripted it any better for us.”

Holman said both teams have changed since last year, but there is one important constant — the faceoff specialists.

Last year’s contest, in which junior R.G. Keenan faced off against Denver’s Chase Carraro, was the only time in the last two years when he failed to win double-digit faceoffs when given 20 or more opportunities.

“(Carraro) definitely got the better of me,” Keenan said. “He’s a very, very good athlete. If you do win the ball, he’s going to chase you down and make it harder for you to pick the ball up.”

In Denver’s first-round playoff game this year, Carraro proved to be the difference for Denver by winning 22 of 35 draws.

But Keenan did the same thing for UNC — winning 15 of 22 draws and scoring a goal in a 16-7 win against Lehigh.

Keenan said he’s not worried about his past performance against Carraro — instead, he’s focusing on his own game.

“I’m not going to do anything different than what I normally do — I just keep doing my thing,” Keenan said. “I’m not trying to make it too complicated.”

Once Keenan gets the ball down to the offensive end, it’ll be up to Tewaaraton finalist Holman and fellow attackmen to score on the Pioneers’ two-goalie system.

While most teams stick with one goalkeeper who starts and finishes games, Denver starts lefty Ryan LaPlante and replaces him with right-handed Jamie Faus at halftime.

This strategy may be a concern to most teams.

But Breschi said he isn’t worried.

“We have a righty and a lefty in practice every day, so our guys are seeing both hands,” Breschi said. “At the end of the day, I think it comes down to taking quality shots and canning those opportunities.”

With two top-five scoring offenses taking the field Sunday, finishing those chances may determine whether UNC gets revenge or sent home — again.

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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