In preparation for one of the most difficult schedules in the nation this season, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team scheduled two scrimmages, one of which was against defending national champion Loyola.
The scrimmage did not count toward Tar Heels’ record, but its unofficial 11-10 score in favor of UNC should give the team confidence going into a tough season.
“The goal of these two scrimmages with Denver and Loyola was to play at a high level,” coach Joe Breschi said. “So these freshmen can anticipate what’s coming ahead.”
The development of the freshmen was important for the Tar Heels in the scrimmage, and was evident when nerves and two early penalties left freshman defenseman Evan Connell concerned for his playing time.
“I was a little nervous,” Connell said. “I thought I might get benched, but coach let me go back on.”
Despite early jitters and inexperience, strong performances by freshmen came early and often.
Freshman midfielder Spencer Parks opened up scoring for the Tar Heels on an unassisted running rip at the end of a man-up opportunity.
Both Parks and fellow freshman midfielder Steve Pontrello each tallied one goal.
The stellar performances by the freshmen proved to be crucial for a UNC team that didn’t gain the lead until the fourth quarter, when senior captain Marcus Holman threw numerous fakes on the crease leaving Loyola’s goalkeeper helpless.
Holman led the Tar Heels with four goals. The next highest goal scorer was sophomore Chad Tutton, who Breschi said will step up as a veteran this season despite his sophomore status.
“He just continues to make plays,” Breschi said. “Chad’s a great player, and I think he’s playing like a veteran.”
Tutton had no problems showing leadership and savvy play as the first quarter wound down. When the Tar Heels found themselves down 4-2, a saved shot bounced off the goalie and rolled around in front of the crease surrounded by bodies, all fighting for the ball.
Tutton scooped the ball and shot all in one motion, placing the ball perfectly into the top corner catching the Loyola goalie off guard for a goal at a critical point in the game.
“He’s got Canadian hands and the box style mentality,” said Breschi. “He does it in practice all the time so it doesn’t surprise us.”
During the regular season, it will be plays like that that determine whether or not the Tar Heels establish themselves as legitimate title contenders.
For Breschi, winning a scrimmage against the returning national champions means a lot for the team’s psyche.
“For us it was an opportunity for them to gain a little bit of confidence,” Breschi said. “And also (let them) know that they belong at this level.”
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