To prep for his second season at North Carolina, coach Joe Breschi had the men’s lacrosse team dive into four weeks of practice, two preseason scrimmages and multiple playing opportunities with UNC alumni.
But Breschi and the team wanted more from each other.
Whether bringing ice cream to kids in the UNC Children’s Hospital or reading a chapter a week in John C. Maxwell’s Talent is Never Enough, the team believes that a strong commitment to community service and a unique team reading program is key to its development.
And that commitment has made this team one of the most tightly-knit groups Breschi has ever seen.
“If we have our individual goals focused on a team-oriented path, we can achieve more,” Breschi said. “Thus, everybody will succeed. It’s not just doing things on the field.”
After a 12-6 (0-3 ACC) record, last year’s team traveled to the NCAA Tournament and were eliminated in a narrow 12-11 fall to Duke in the quarterfinals.
With the loss of a number of key players, including goalie Grant Zimmerman and face-off specialist Shane Walterhoefer, this year’s starting lineup holds a mix of veteran returnees and standout newcomers.
For the experienced players, marquee attackman and first-team All-American Billy Bitter will lead the Tar Heels’ offense, returning as the leading scorer with 46 goals from last season.
Defenseman Ryan Flanagan and midfielder Sean DeLaney, a co-captain, were also selected as third-team All-Americans and will help nurture the freshman class in adjusting to collegiate play.
“We’re still working out the kinks with the freshmen,” Bitter said. “This is my second year with the new coaches, so it’s my job to guide them to the spots they have to be in — on and off the field.”
Four of UNC’s starting midfield positions have been claimed by rookies Cam Wood, Ian Braddish, Greg McBride, and Zander Walters. Fellow freshman Marcus Holman will join the starting ranks alongside Bitter as an attackman.
Despite a young midfield, Breschi’s squad boasts an experienced defense that has veteran leadership alongside the current starting goalie, junior Chris Madalon.
“Our young midfield, our second group, has to come along quickly,” Breschi said.
“The defense has to make an impact for us, and I like the depth at goalie, but it’s nice to have a clear voice there.”
With a rigorous schedule ahead, the No. 4 Tar Heels will face a total of seven top-20 teams including ACC competitors No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Virginia and No. 8 Maryland.
With a 13-5 scrimmage victory against No. 15 Brown in October and a recent 8-8 tie with No. 19 Bucknell in snowy conditions under its belt, North Carolina opened regular season play with an 11-5 win against Jacksonville University last Saturday.
But UNC is focusing on preparing for games of a much closer margin and is looking to avenge three of its one-goal losses to conference teams from last season.
All eyes have been set on that revenge — with a stop first at the ACC Tournament and then to the NCAAs.
“Three of those games could have been wins, and one of those could have advanced us to the final four,” Bitter said.
“That just shows us how good we can be if we focus for all 60 minutes of every game.”
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