Three-time All-American attackman Harper Peterson might as well have been the only man left on the field.
Peterson and the rest of the 1970 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team were after more than just the shot that would transform a game tied at 7-7 into a UNC victory.
This was a chance to give UNC lacrosse a national name.
Watching as Peterson cradled the ball and sprinted toward Washington and Lee’s goal with full force, his teammates fled from his path.
Instructed by their coach, Frederick O. Mueller, to “clear out and have Peterson go one-on-one with the defenseman,” the UNC team moved left and out of his way.
As if on cue, Washington and Lee’s defensemen followed.
With only a single player standing between Peterson and the game-winning goal, he dodged the Generals’ last wall of defense and fired the exact shot he needed.
The goal sealed an 8-7 win that helped transform the team into the program’s first truly successful squad. A South Atlantic Division title and North Carolina’s first top-10 ranking at No. 7 were announced less than two weeks later, after the team routed Duke 20-5.
Now, 40 years later, that team is coming home to Fetzer Field. Reuniting to celebrate its accomplishments as the lacrosse program’s earliest storied team, the 1970 team will be honored at halftime tomorrow as the current No. 3 Tar Heels (8-0) take on No. 4 Maryland (6-0).
Stepping onto what was a rocky field behind Craige Residence Hall, a group of freshmen lacrosse players met for the very first time in 1967. There was nothing offered for the players other than the game itself.
“It was not like it is today, where it’s a head coach and maybe three assistant coaches, and the players are recruited,” back-up goalie Bob Manekin, the organizer behind the 40th reunion, said. “We just showed up.”
The freshmen who later made up the senior-laden roster on the 1970 team began practicing for their five-game season that was separate from that of the varsity program due to North Carolina’s regulations: No freshmen could play on the varsity team.
And in 1967, that might not have been such a bad thing. While the freshman earned a perfect 5-0 record, the varsity team didn’t win any of its games.
“We scrimmaged them a lot,” midfielder Andy Scott said. “If we scrimmaged them a day or two before their games, we were basically told to go easy and not score on them.
“But it was pretty interesting. We did quite well, because we had some great players. We didn’t want to demoralize them before their games.”
Piecing it together
Mueller, who still works for UNC in the exercise and sports science department, led the team depending on his athletic and coaching abilities — in a completely different sport.
After playing football for UNC, he joined the football team’s coaching staff while completing graduate work and was named head coach of the varsity lacrosse program in 1969.
Mueller had never played lacrosse.
But a highly accomplished All-American Navy defenseman showed up in 1970 to make up for Mueller’s lack of personal experience.
Captain Vincent Anania of the NROTC — Elizabeth Edwards’ father — volunteered to assist Mueller, adding plenty of personal experience in the game to Mueller’s athletic instincts.
And adding to that extensive knowledge were the players themselves. Peterson and starting goalie Peter Kramer each were named All-Americans three years in a row, and Kramer was named the nation’s best goalie in 1969.
The two combined to lead the team to a 9-2 finish in 1970, including an undefeated record in division play, which earned them the rights to North Carolina’s first championship.
“At the end of four years, we had totally turned around Carolina lacrosse so people had heard of the sport,” Manekin said.
“They didn’t scratch their heads, and the lacrosse game wasn’t dismissed as a bunch of prep school losers. We were 9-2 and could compete with anyone in the country.”
The team comes together this weekend to both celebrate and commemorate. The 23 returning 1970 veterans are eager to see what coach Joe Breschi and former coaches, including UNC Hall of Famer Willie Scroggs, have made of the program.
The 1970 team, with hand-me-down football jerseys hanging off their backs, struggled to add legitimacy to their non-revenue sport’s program.
“Even though the football team gave used cleats to North Carolina high schools, we had to go out and provide our own shoes,” Mankein said.
“I think we got two sticks and a pair of gloves and a helmet issued to us, and other than that, we did a lot of this on our own.”
Recent teams can tell a completely different story. Experience, valued leadership and standout players have added four national championships to the program’s list of achievements.
But those accomplishments stay grounded in North Carolina lacrosse’s history — one that some people could argue truly begins in 1970.
“We just had a nucleus, and I think that once you do that, it makes it easier for the people who come after you to recruit and say ‘Look, you know, Carolina’s serious about lacrosse,’” Scott said.
“So I think that may have had a start, but I don’t want to take anything away from the guys who came after us that were really great.
“We certainly turned the corner.”
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