The first lopsided defeat came on Feb. 25, when Johns Hopkins jumped out to a 4-1 lead through one half and dominated the second en route to a 13-5 win. Despite the wide margin of defeat, UNC’s players and coaches were confident they could turn things around.
On Saturday, North Carolina was blown out once again in a 15-7 loss to No. 10 Maryland, whom the Tar Heels defeated last spring to capture the program’s first national title since 1991. And, again, the message was one of optimism rather than panic.
“We’ve got everything that we want to accomplish in this season right in front of us ...” said senior attacker Luke Goldstock. “We just have to keep working hard and we’ll figure it out.”
But while the positive outlook is one the team needs given its start to the season, time is running out for North Carolina (5-4) to make good on its preseason expectations.
It’s understandable why the Tar Heels have refused to let the blowout losses demoralize them. Last season, the team was in the exact same position — 5-4 after a loss to the Terrapins. Things went pretty well for UNC the rest of the way, as it rallied to make the NCAA Tournament and eventually win the national championship.
“Last year we were confident and this year we’re confident,” said sophomore attacker Timmy Kelly. “We have a good group of guys, and we’re good players. Right now we’ve just gotta figure out our mesh. We’re all doing well, we’ve just gotta figure it out.”
Statistically, this year’s North Carolina team is roughly similar to last year’s squad. Through nine games in 2017, the Tar Heels average over 10 goals a game. And their defense is actually a tad better in terms of goals allowed, but results like Saturday’s have a way of trumping the numbers.
“I thought we were improved as we kind of went through the course of the past couple weeks,” said head coach Joe Breschi. “We’ve gotten better at the defensive end, and we just didn’t show it today.
What might end up hurting UNC the most the rest of the way is its schedule. The results against Maryland and then top-5 Johns Hopkins seemed like good losses at the time, but the Blue Jays lost three straight after defeating the Tar Heels and the Terrapins had lost two in a row prior to Saturday.
UNC will likely have to win three of its four conference games to feel good about its NCAA Tournament chances. And that’s easier said than done. All four ACC foes the Tar Heels will face are ranked in the top 15.
North Carolina might be confident, but unless it translates into on-the-field results, the reigning national champions could watch the tournament unfold from Chapel Hill this spring.