Like most other teams on Senior Day, the seniors on the No. 4 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team addressed their teammates in the locker room before their last home game.
Unlike most other teams, though, this wasn’t new. The seniors have given a speech before every single game this season.
"They say something every game to get (the team) jacked up and get us jacked up as a staff,” Coach Joe Breschi said.
That energy has propelled the Tar Heels to a 12-1, 3-0 ACC record, including a 17-15 win over No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday sparked by a 5-0 game-opening scoring run.
The 11 UNC seniors — including attackman Joey Sankey, who set UNC's career scoring record Saturday with 214 points — have been instrumental to the season’s success.
“All of them have meant so much to this program,” Breschi said. “Those guys hustle so much, they scrap so much, they have a never die mentality.”
Attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Sankey form the tip of the spear for UNC’s offense. The diminutive duo — Sankey is 5-foot-5, Bitter 5-foot-7 — make up in impact what they lack in size. They set the tone for every game.
“We try to go into every game acting like we’re down a few goals, getting that chip on our shoulder,” Sankey said.
Sankey and Bitter have scored 26 and 31 goals, respectively, for UNC this season. Bitter also has an NCAA record of 54 straight games with a point, closely followed by Sankey with 49.
Their contributions to UNC extend past the stat sheet, though. Sophomore attackman Luke Goldstock led the team in scoring on Saturday with four goals and has a team-leading 39 this season, but Goldstock gives a lot of credit to the two seniors who open up avenues for him to score.
“They create so much, you can really kind of feed off them,” Goldstock said.
With Chad Tutton, Walker Chafee and Drew Hays, UNC has a wealth of experience in the midfield. The three have played in every game this season and Tutton is third on the team in goals with 28.
The Canadian native, known like many of his countrymen for swinging the stick in any way that will get the ball in the net, recorded a hat trick against Syracuse by the end of the first half. He scored one goal on a blazing underhand swing and has been able to impart some of his creative finishing skills to his teammates — Goldstock scored his fourth goal by diving from behind the net and throwing the ball over his shoulder.
Despite the contributions of UNC’s seniors on offense, the Tar Heels needed something more.
Syracuse staged a furious fourth-quarter rally, scoring six goals to cut the deficit to two. But on the Orange’s final possession, defenseman and team captain Jake Bailey caused a turnover that sealed the win for UNC. On Senior Day, it was only fitting it was a senior who made the biggest play.
“They’ve been great for four years, and to have the culmination of their career in the regular season be against Syracuse ... is just a wonderful experience for these guys,” Breschi said.
“Everybody knew that this was their day and everybody responded.”
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