The No. 6 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team might be feeling a little bit of deja vu heading into its game against top-ranked Maryland in Kenan Stadium this Saturday.
The team found itself in a nearly identical situation last year.
Facing the top-ranked Terrapins, questions surrounded the direction the Tar Heels’ season was headed. This game would either be a phenomenal addition to UNC’s tournament resume or a detrimental loss in the toughest conference in the nation.
But the Tar Heels won that game a year ago — and didn’t lose again after that until the NCAA Tournament.
It was the turning point of their season.
“Last year, we were in a pickle,” coach Joe Breschi said. “We had three losses so you’re either coming out of there .500 or with a nice win under your belt."
And this season with the addition of Notre Dame and Syracuse to the ACC and a new tournament format, a loss would be more injurious to UNC’s title chances than it may have been in the past.
Despite having six teams, the ACC is still only having four teams play in its tournament at the end of the season. While the two teams with the worst conference records will get a chance to play a consolation game against each other, they will not get a chance at the ACC title.
With an 0-2 record already in the ACC off of two hotly contested one-goal losses against the newly added Fighting Irish and rival Duke, the Tar Heels have put themselves in a vulnerable position — one that could see them out of the tournament.
Senior captain Ryan Creighton isn't even thinking about that though.
“As a captain and a leader of the team, it’s all about the next game," Creighton said. "I don’t think we’re too concerned about that.”
If the Tar Heels are going to prevent that fate, one that could keep them from having the chance to even defend their 2013 ACC title, it will start with the defense.
While in the first three games of the season the Tar Heels made light work of severely overmatched teams, the team started to struggle once it began facing ranked opponents.
Although the defense boasts strong, athletic players like Mark McNeill and Creighton, a combination of lacking off-ball defense and issues with staying out of the penalty box have put UNC in trouble against teams like Notre Dame, Princeton and even Harvard.
A UNC player found himself in the penalty box fifteen times in those three games resulting in seven goals that resulted in giving up double-digit goals and even a loss against the Irish.
"I feel like we’re playing pretty well (in) six-on-six defense," Creighton said. "As long as we can prevent early offense and transition opportunities and stay out of the penalty box I think we can be pretty successful.”
It might seem like the pressure's on for the Tar Heels, but don’t tell Breschi that. He’s excited for the take on the Terrapins.
“(Whenever) you play the number one team, the pressure’s more on them,” Breschi said. “Anytime you get a chance to play the number one team specifically in Kenan Stadium on a beautiful day in Chapel Hill it’s a great thing.”
And it’s that optimism that oozes from Breschi that may very well lead to UNC experiencing more deja vu at the end of the weekend — with a win.