RALEIGH — Senior midfielder Stephen Kelly knew it was going to be a big day for the No. 1 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team from the first whistle.
Kelly won the face-off, grabbed the ground ball from behind him, ran toward the UMBC net and saw no one had slid over to cover him. So he fired a shot from the left side.
The ball flew past the goalie — 1-0 Tar Heels, 15 seconds into the game.
“It was a good way to start the year,” Kelly said with a smile.
Kelly’s opening goal and outstanding performance in the faceoff game set the tone for UNC, as the defending national champions scored the first eight goals of the game en route to a 17-6 victory at Cardinal Gibbons High School. The game was scheduled to be at Fetzer Field, but Chapel Hill's water crisis moved it to Raleigh.
Kelly won 75 percent of his faceoffs in the first quarter, giving UNC numerous chances with the ball, which the Tar Heels executed. The team scored 10 goals in the opening frame.
“He’s the reason,” head coach Joe Breschi said of Kelly, on why UNC got off to a red-hot start. “If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score.”
Kelly said a great offseason made him ready to perform from the first bit of action in the young season.
“I’ve been feeling confident and having good scrimmages,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a big key with faceoffs is confidence, so hopefully I can keep that rolling a little bit.”