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Backup players lead UNC men's soccer team in win against Virginia Tech

Freshman Robbie Lovejoy has come up clutch for the Tar Heels late in the past two games.
Freshman Robbie Lovejoy has come up clutch for the Tar Heels late in the past two games.

Carlos McCrary to Martin Murphy to Jordan Gafa probably wasn’t a scoring combination the North Carolina soccer coach thought much about when he was putting together strategy in August.

But that’s how the season has been for coach Elmar Bolowich: unpredictable. All three of the players had to step in for starters.

Still, UNC claimed at least a share in the ACC regular season title against Virginia Tech with a starting lineup that only halfway resembles that of the beginning of the season.

Seniors Michael Farfan and Stephen McCarthy were sidelined due to injury along with freshman backup Bruno Castro. Starting defender Brett King quit the team after pain resulting from multiple foot surgeries. Starting striker Alex Dixon was forced to sit out a game after procuring a red card against South Carolina on Tuesday.

Some teams would falter under those circumstances, but the UNC backups apparently didn’t get that memo. All three goals came from former backups, two of them from true freshmen.

“That’s the beautiful thing about our team,” forward Enzo Martinez said. “All of the goals, all of the goals, were new guys. And what can you say about that?”

The goals scored by the freshmen were not lucky breaks either. McCrary showed a professional level of composure and skill when he dribbled past the keeper and slotted the ball into the back of the net.

And then there was freshman Robbie Lovejoy, whose incredible speed allowed him to take a loose ball, get behind the defense and score his second goal in only his second collegiate soccer game.

But most impressive to Bolowich has been redshirt freshman defender Matt Rose, who inherited the starting job after King left the team.

“Midseason he comes in after the Old Dominion game and starts playing, and then starts playing every single minute,” Bolowich said. “And he’s a converted midfielder and forward who is playing left back for the first time. So you have to give him credit, he’s a quick study.”

Though he is proud of his reserve players, Bolowich has never seen a team so ravaged by injuries.

“This is unusual, this is very, very unusual,” Bolowich said. “I cannot recall a season where we had back-to-back-to-back, so many injuries. And it’s game-related injuries, it’s not anything that’s muscular.”

But even in the midst of so many injuries, there is a silver lining for the situation. Many of the young players are getting experience that will be invaluable for next season after the seniors depart.

Lovejoy, who was forced to burn a redshirt, has been a revelation the past two games with his speed.

The replacements have done more than just fill in. They have established themselves, giving opposing players something to look forward to on the pitch. But Lovejoy knows that no matter what he does on the field this season, he’s not a perfect substitute.

“Obviously the guys we are missing are irreplaceable,” Lovejoy said. “It’s just nice to know that I am contributing and having fun at the same time.”

Contact the Sports Editor


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