North Carolina’s matchup against Robert Morris on Saturday was not simply a season opener; it was the collegiate debut of coach Joe Breschi’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Freshman attackman Nicky Galasso, the top-rated recruit in the country, lived up to expectations by netting four goals, including one in the final three minutes, to help lead the No. 3 Tar Heels to a 14-11 win against the No. 21 Colonials.
The Tar Heels never trailed, but the game appeared to be slipping away in the final period as Robert Morris brought the game to within a goal after Colonial midfielder Kevin Brownell scored with an assist from Kiel Matisz.
But the Tar Heels appeared to be unfazed by the Colonials’ last-minute comeback attempt.
“We had to slow the ball down and move the ball,” Galasso said. “We had to make singles instead of making the home run plays.”
After their goal, the Colonials charged down the field in their campaign to tie the score.
But UNC senior defenseman Ryan Flanagan never gave them the chance.
After forcing a turnover by Matisz, Flanagan earned the ground ball and started on a fast break down the field.
“That might have been the play of the season so far, where he picks off that pass in a one-goal game and goes down and hits his fellow West Islip player, Galasso, on the doorstep to go up two with three or four minutes to go,” Breschi said.
Less than two minutes after Galasso’s goal, fellow freshman Mark McNeill sealed UNC’s win by scoring an unassisted goal on an open net with 1:08 remaining in game.
McNeill ended the game with two second-half goals and one assist.
“The freshmen just did a tremendous job of keeping their poise under pressure, and the veteran guys stepped up,” Breschi said.
Flanagan’s goal might have been the play of the season thus far, but Marcus Holman’s goal as time expired in the second quarter was the play of the first half. The 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year scored three times.
Robert Morris’ unique style of play, which included fake flips and unusual rebounds, might differ from the Tar Heels’ techniques, but it did not cause Breschi to alter his game plan.
“I think what we talked about were the fundamentals, the way you have to play those guys, the Canadian kids, is just stick to the fundamentals and not try to do anything out of sorts,” Breschi said. “Just try to take the ball away and play good, sound defense.”
The UNC defense did its job as they helped the team earn 12 out of 13 possible clears along with scooping up 36 ground balls to Robert Morris’ 22 for the game.
The defensive effort carried all the way to the goal, as redshirt senior and 2010 All-ACC goalie Chris Madalon had 11 saves on Robert Morris’ 31 shots.
“I think offensively we did a great job over all and defensively really we did a sound job,” Breschi said. “It’s just preparation now … really just fine tuning our game.”
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.