If you want to understand this team, follow the irony, because it'll take you to the heart of the 2001 edition Tar Heels.
Let's start with the not-so-subtle.
John Haus, the first-year head coach and UNC alumnus, is a renowned defensive specialist. He was a defenseman when he played and he was defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins. Simply, defense is his specialty.
What does Haus inherit at UNC?
The most inexperienced defensive unit Chapel Hill has seen in years.
None of the three defensive starters -- Bobby Gormsen, Hunter Sims and freshman Ronnie Staines -- have played significant minutes except for Gormsen, and those were as a midfielder.
"Obviously Ronnie's a freshman, so he hasn't played a lick of college ball," Haus said. "Sims hasn't played much at all in his three years here, so he has very little experience. Bobby Gormsen's always been out top, so we have three kids on close defense who have never been there before the college level. That'll be pretty tough"
So Haus, the defensive expert, has this elaborate strategy to counteract UNC's lack of experience, right?
Nope. Not unless you call two defensive alignments and practicing every day elaborate.
"We just practice and get our work done," Gormsen said. "We are young, inexperienced, but we've come together well. We just go out and play.
"Between this year and last year, even with the inexperience, I feel better this year. We feed off of Coach and how well he teaches defense."
Therein lies the philosophy that pervades every aspect of this team: hard work and simplicity.
If the Tar Heels (8-6, 0-3 in the ACC last season) are going to return to prominence in the ACC and receive an NCAA tournament bid, it will be on the force of these two tenants.
Playing with an unproven defense that Haus calls "an issue," the UNC offense's role will be of even greater importance than normal.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, they have one of the nation's best attackmen in Jeff Sonke.
"I think he clearly has the ability and the talent to be one of the better kids at his position this year," Haus said. "He can go to the goal, and he's very athletic; he can shoot. Offensively, he's the guy that we're going to be expecting a heck of a lot out of this year."
Sonke posted 33 goals -- easily a team high -- and 16 assists last season and was tabbed preseason All-America prior to the start of the 2001 campaign.
"I just want to get out here and win an ACC Championship and make it to the NCAA tournament," Sonke said. "I don't really think of the individual stuff. I just want to play well as an offensive unit and have everyone on the same page and doing the right thing."
Nothing complex about it.
Sonke's fellow attackmen include freshman Andrew Lucas and sophomore Steven Will, who tallied the best numbers of any freshman with 12 goals and seven assists last season.
The Tar Heels will run a basic half-field offensive set to attempt to maximize ball control, thereby alleviating the defense and junior goalie Kris Blindenbacher of prolonged periods of action.
Aiding the offensive goal will be the midfielder, consisting of junior Tim Gosier and sophomores Kyle Bell and Austin Garrison.
"We have Austin doing some different things this year, I think, compared to what he was doing last year," Haus said. "I know he went behind the goal a lot last year, and we've got him running out top. He's got good speed, he's a real good dodger, and he works extremely hard. I think this'll be a great year for him."
By all accounts this season has the potential to be great for the entire team, provided it maintain the same standards demonstrated in the preseason.
Said Haus, "They've practiced hard the entire time and just want to go out and win."
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