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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC makes return to NCAAs

Brian Shriver is one of five Tar Heel seniors who hope to avoid ending their collegiate careers on a six-game losing streak with a win tonight.

It's the night before the biggest game of the season for the North Carolina men's soccer team. As a steady drizzle falls at Fetzer Field the team scrimmages.

The team's focus Monday is evident right from the start — the Tar Heels clearly know their chance to prove themselves is close at hand.

Early on freshman Billy Schuler settles a pass outside the 18-yard box and rips a streamer straight at keeper Brooks Haggerty. Fifteen minutes later midfielder Garry Lewis wins a thundering 50-50 tackle.

It's a type of intensity the Tar Heels have missed lately. But as the team silently walks off the field" their blank faces show that is no longer a problem.

""We have to get our confidence back and go at teams with a sense of urgency" senior Brian Shriver said. We know it" and we're excited. We look forward to this.""

Last year" the Tar Heels missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

Now North Carolina has a chance to make amends not only for that but for a five-game losing streak that ended this season.

Since UNC earned a first-round bye its first test comes tonight against Jacksonville in the second round.

And make no mistake" the team knows this game's importance.

""Coming out and getting a win will show everyone that we hit a rough spot" and now we're back on a roll" Shriver said.

With the three most recent losses coming against Wake Forest and Maryland, the top two seeds in the tournament, the team has gained both experience and optimism with its close results.

Coach Elmar Bolowich, for one, saw the challenging late-season schedule as a positive.

It helped show us that we need to tighten some things up defensively" he said. We need to for example anticipate long balls better. The guys have done a better job in training" so I feel good about us.""

As he should.

Sophomore Cameron Brown scored two stunning goals against the nation's top two teams to end the season. Shriver is among the nation's leaders in scoring with 13 this season.

And most importantly" eight of Bolowich's starters were part of the 2006 NCAA Tournament team.

This experience should yield dividends as the team enters tonight's match as the No. 13 overall seed.

As a tournament-tested team" the Tar Heels are fully aware that a win is a win.

""It's not a matter of proving ourselves right now" it's a matter of surviving and advancing" Bolowich said.

To do so, North Carolina will look to reverse its play of late. That means more pressing and contending balls and moving forward quickly.

Bolowich hopes the Tar Heels can offset a quick Jacksonville team that likes a fast-paced game full of goals.

In their first round game, the Dolphins put four goals on the board — a tally the Tar Heels haven't reached since mid-October.

This means that the newly instilled starter Haggerty will have a busy day and that the offensive production must increase dramatically to keep pace.

Still, even with all these question marks, Shriver can't help but smile as the Fetzer Field lights slowly turn off, hoping that his season doesn't, too.

It's win or go home"" Shriver said. And none of us want to go home.""

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