Every athlete knows the old adage: practice makes perfect.
But if the practice isn’t perfect, the resulting play could be imperfect. So when the No. 9 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team needed to be in peak form against top-ranked Virginia, it wasn’t.
It was that imperfection that plagued UNC (8-4, 1-2 ACC) in its 15-10 loss to the Cavaliers (10-1, 2-0) on Saturday at Fetzer Field.
“I think we played as we practiced. We had a tough week of practice, and we played that way,” coach Joe Breschi said. “I don’t think we played with that edge in practice, which spills over into the game.”
The Tar Heels’ flaws weren’t apparent at the beginning of the game, as a Jimmy Dunster goal evened the score at four with just less than seven minutes remaining in the first half.
But from there, things went downhill quickly for North Carolina. Virginia went on a 6-0 run that bridged halftime to take a commanding 10-4 lead.
UNC had no answer for the Cavaliers, as Ryan Benincasa won the next four faceoffs to keep the ball in Virginia’s attacking third.
“That third quarter, they came out and just dominated us, and we can’t let than happen, but we did,” said freshman Jimmy Bitter, who scored two goals on a game-high 11 shots.
“They got that first goal, which is always the biggest coming out of the quarter. And once they got that first one, they just kept the momentum and they fed off of that and kept pouring it on, and we couldn’t stop it.”
During that stretch, Steele Stanwick had two goals and two assists, accounting for four of his seven points on the game.
The defending national player of the year carved up North Carolina’s shaky defense from behind the cage. He often delivered pinpoint passes to his teammates cutting to goal, and that was when he wasn’t creating his own offense by dodging around the posts.
“Steele Stanwick is terrific behind the cage, kind of orchestrating their offense,” Breschi said. “Stanwick kind of runs the whole show. And to come up with seven points, you’ve got to point to the quarterback. He’s the guy who runs it, and he did a heck of a job.”
Two Chad Tutton goals capped a 3-0 run in the fourth quarter that brought the Tar Heels within four, but that was as close as they would get. Virginia answered with two more goals to put the game out of reach in front of 5,138 fans, the most to watch a lacrosse game at North Carolina since 1991.
Tutton recorded a hat trick against Virginia, including a behind-the-back highlight shot, but all three goals came in the fourth quarter. He, along with the rest of the Tar Heels, needed that production earlier in the second half.
“By the time we started catching up, it was too little, too late,” Tutton said. “We’ve got to come out and play 60 minutes of lacrosse, that’s it.”
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