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UNC relies on freshmen attackmen to boost offense against Dartmouth

With the meat of North Carolina’s schedule set to begin on Saturday, and his team slumping, UNC men’s lacrosse coach Joe Breschi opted to shake up his starting lineup for Wednesday’s matchup with Dartmouth.

Entering the contest without injured attackman Nicky Galasso, Breschi slid dynamic freshmen Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter into the starting attack, hoping to jump start an offense that averaged just 8.6 goals in its last five games.

Needing to put goals on the board, Breschi featured senior Thomas Wood in the attack line to start the second quarter. A reliable target man for the Tar Heels the past two seasons, Wood’s presence allowed Sankey and Bitter to use their agility to beat defenders without having to make a spectacular play on goal.

“(Sankey and Bitter) are two of the most dynamic players I’ve ever played with — just freshmen, too. Sometimes I try to tell them that you can play fast but not have to make the home run play. You can just make a single, and hopefully those singles will build up to runs,” Wood said.

The advice seemed to stick with the freshmen just 24 seconds into the period, when Wood, Sankey and Bitter linked up to give the Tar Heels a lead they would not relinquish.

After an errant Dartmouth pass skipped to Sankey at midfield, he quickly flicked it ahead to Bitter in transition on the right flank. With Wood slashing to the cage from the left, Bitter drew the lone Dartmouth defender before firing to Wood, who put away the easy finish.

“We have a ‘go’ mentality once we get it over the midfield,” Breschi said. “Getting it to those quick little attack men, they generated some opportunities for us.”

Wood tallied three more goals in the period, part of an eight-goal, second-quarter burst that gave UNC enough cushion to withstand a late Dartmouth charge for a 13-10 win.

“Just making those easy passes after you make a great play — things will open up from there,” Wood said. “I think that’s what happened in that second quarter.”

Wood’s performance was big for the Dallas native, who had tallied just three goals all season after missing the team’s first three games with a thumb injury. Wood failed to find the back netting as UNC stumbled to three losses in its last four games, but he indicated that his thumb felt back to normal on Wednesday.

The senior’s four scores, along with Marcus Holman’s five assists, guided UNC’s talented but young attack to a needed victory with a critical matchup with Maryland looming Saturday.

“Thomas and Marcus Holman, as veteran guys, they led that attack group,” Breschi said. “Those guys, we expect them to lead, especially with two freshmen in there.”

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