The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

Young Lacrosse Team Readies for Tourney

The men's lacrosse team likely needs to beat Virginia in today's ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA berth.

But, thankfully, the North Carolina freshmen have been able to go through it together -- supporting each other, nourishing each other.

And always, above all else, ripping on each other during practice.

"Spellman thinks he can always stop the ball," said Prossner, a starting attackman, after a recent UNC practice. "I always show him who's good out there."

"Jed thinks he can take all the defensemen," retorted Spellman, the team's starting goalkeeper, "but it never happens really."

The team's leading scorer and goalkeeper bickering in practice? Gasp! Sounds like dissension among the ranks. Better sit the two of them down, pour a couple cups of hot chai and get them to sort out their differences.

But don't count on UNC coach John Haus to do that anytime soon. The competition between Prossner and Spellman is real, but the banter is friendly. And that's a comforting sign to their coach.

"We need that here; we need competition," Haus said. "And I think that maybe in the past that's what's hurt us -- we haven't had the competition that we need. And the beauty of this team and hopefully the teams down the road is we're going to be very competitive."

The youthful Tar Heels, which start three freshmen and three sophomores, are hoping that that competition -- as well as the growing pains experienced during painfully close losses -- will pay dividends this weekend at the ACC Tournament.

UNC (7-3), seeded fourth, plays top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Virginia (8-1) today at 6 p.m. at Duke's Koskinen Stadium. The second-seeded Blue Devils (5-5) take on third-seeded Maryland (7-3) in the other semifinal at 8:30 p.m.

The winners will meet for the championship Sunday at 3 p.m. That game will be televised regionally on Fox Sports Net South and Comcast Sports Net.

The Tar Heels haven't won an ACC Tournament game since 1996 -- the last time they were conference tournament champions.

Not coincidentally, they have qualified for the NCAA tournament only once since then, in 1998, and have been a no-show in the 12-team field the past three seasons. If it is to receive a bid this year, UNC probably needs to beat Virginia this weekend and then win its two remaining regular season games.

That's going to require limiting mistakes. The Tar Heels' losses include one-goal losses to Johns Hopkins and, two weeks ago, the Cavaliers. During those defeats, they experienced prolonged lapses in play, a problem that has plagued them for much of the season.

"We've tried to talk about it a lot," Haus said. "We show it on films, and we try to make it clear that we can't do that against Virginia if we're going to be successful."

The message seems to be getting through to his players. Playful trash talking aside, they understand what they need to do now that tournament time has come.

"Basically, now we've got a full season under our belts," Spellman said. "This time of year we can't be playing as freshmen, making young mistakes."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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