Tar Heels lose Craven, Lovejoy to injury

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UNC Junior Andy Craven (10) passes the ball.

The North Carolina men’s soccer team, seconds after winning its first game of the season in overtime Friday night, formed a boisterous mob on Fetzer Field.

Andy Craven could only watch.

Craven, the team’s leading goal scorer in 2012, saw his teammates flood off the bench to join the powder-blue crush. Minutes later, with his left leg stretched out on a medical cart, Craven dismounted and hobbled toward the locker room on crutches.

“It’s pretty painful that I can’t get out there and play, but it’s not in any selfish way,” Craven said by phone Tuesday, nearly a week removed from season-ending foot surgery. “That doesn’t deter me at all from doing the best for the team and being there.”

Craven, who will return in 2014 for his fifth and final year of NCAA eligibility, faces a three-month recovery after doctors reattached a tendon in his left foot Aug. 25. He hurt his foot this spring and recently suffered a fracture, which broke through scar tissue on the outside of his foot.

“I’ve kind of just accepted my injury and the process that it takes to recover,” the 2012 College of Charleston transfer said. “I’m trying not to be negative in any light.”

Soon after learning about Craven’s fate, UNC’s attack absorbed another sharp blow with the loss of fellow forward Rob Lovejoy, who will likely miss the season with a pinched nerve in his left leg.

UNC’s second-leading scorer in 2012, Lovejoy said he could play at limited strength, but wouldn’t be healthy enough to be effective. The Greensboro native received a cortisone shot last week and will wait to see how his leg responds to treatment.

“I’m over that whole feeling-sorry-for-myself stage,” Lovejoy said, who plans to return in 2014 if he sits out this season. “I’ve met some great people here at UNC, and my parents and other family members really help me through these tough times.”

With Craven and Lovejoy sidelined, UNC has lost the lion’s share of its potent 2012 offense. Danny Garcia and Martin Murphy , another pair of go-to scorers, departed this spring, as did ensemble scorers Cameron Brown, Mikey Lopez and Jordan Gafa.

“That’s the great thing about this program,” Lovejoy said, “year after year, we get unbelievable players. I know (the goals) are going to come.”

Craven and Lovejoy know the drill of long-term recuperation. Both sustained serious injuries in recent years — a hamstring tear ended Craven’s sophomore season at Charleston, while a troublesome groin limited Lovejoy to 11 appearances in 2012. Both said they intend to remain present for their teammates.

“What we got are two great guys on our team,” coach Carlos Somoano said. “They’re still leading our guys … I’m still glad they’re part of our program.”

Craven knows this. He knew it when he joined his teammates, albeit belatedly, in celebration. But like Lovejoy, he could, for the most part, only watch from afar.

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