The No. 5 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team is building on three consecutive wins this season, even without much help from two of the players who were leading the team at this point in 2014.
Due to injury this season, sophomore Shane Simpson has barely seen playing time and junior Shane Pontrello hasn’t seen the field at all.
Yet the Tar Heels managed to rout the Massachusetts Minutemen 20-8 at home Saturday despite missing two regular starters from last season.
“When one guy goes down the next guy on the bench (steps up),” said defenseman Austin Pifani, reiterating Coach Joe Breschi’s teachings. “We’ve built tremendous depth on our team.”
Depth is the key indeed because Pontrello and Simpson weren’t the only Tar Heels who have been missing in action early in the season.
Junior goalkeeper Kieran Burke missed the first two games and didn’t see his first minutes of the season in cage until the fourth quarter Saturday.
Senior starting defenseman Jake Bailey wasn’t even in attendance Saturday due to flu-like symptoms.
Offensive midfielder Michael Tagliaferri started to get limited playing Saturday as he begins a comeback from injury.
The list goes on and on.
“The biggest thing for us is chemistry,” Breschi said about coaching through injuries. “I feel like we’re building depth, but we want to continue to have chemistry.
“It’s a process.”
A process that is showing results for the Tar Heels who moved to 3-0 on the season.
With Simpson and Pontrello’s absence, junior Patrick Kelly and sophomore Peyton Klawinski have seamlessly rolled right into the starting lineup — and produced.
Against the Minutemen, Klawinski recorded his second hat trick of the season and Kelly added two assists as both players got their third start of the season.
“(Klawinski) was on the scout team the entire season last year. He played very little,” Breschi said. “That’s what’s great to see — a young man like that develop and play the way he has.”
“I don’t want to call it a surprise, but (Klawinski)’s the most improved player from a year ago.”
Senior attackman Joey Sankey took an equally optimistic perspective as his coach, talking about exactly what one might expect — depth and chemistry.
“It’s exciting,” Sankey said of the young players’ increased minutes. “You can see a progression of guys getting more comfortable with each other.”
While the Tar Heels would obviously like to get all their players healthy as quickly as possible, with the depth they’re building, it doesn’t seem like they’re too worried about how missing players now might affect their performance later in the season.
“It’s getting a chance to get guys on the field and then play at a high level,” Breschi said. “I think that’s going to help us in the long run.”
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