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The Daily Tar Heel

After 2017 first-round exit, UNC men's lacrosse enters 2018 ready for more

Men's lacrosse 2017 ACCT
The North Carolina men's lacrosse team celebrates its 2017 ACC Tournament Championship on April 30, 2017, in Durham.

Inconsistency was the story for last year’s North Carolina men’s lacrosse team.

After a 6-7 regular season, the Tar Heels were able to catch fire, win the ACC Tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament. This success was short lived, however, as the team was eliminated in the first round of the tournament after losing to Albany, 15-12, which ended its chances of a second straight NCAA title after a 2016 win.

The No. 9 Tar Heels will kick off their 2018 campaign on Saturday at noon, when they host Lafayette in Kenan Memorial Stadium, the first game of a three-game home stand. UNC has 19 consecutive season opening wins, and the team will look to keep that streak alive on Saturday, even in a different location.

Returning Talent

North Carolina is returning multiple starters from last season, but none of them may be quite as important as senior attackman Chris Cloutier. The senior is entering the 2018 season on a 20-game scoring streak, spanning two seasons in which he has amounted 55 goals. In addition to his scoring streak, Cloutier currently sits at 80 goals for his entire career. With a productive senior season, he'll almost definitely break the 100 mark for his career.

While Cloutier will certainly be the focal point of UNC’s attack, he is not the only notable returning player. Both Cloutier and junior Jack Rowlett were elected to the preseason All-ACC team, and they are both entering their third season as starters.

Another Tar Heel that is entering the 2018 season on an impressive note is junior attackman Andy Matthews. He enters the campaign with a nine-game assist streak, and he will look to extend that streak into the new year.

UNC under Joe Breschi 

Whenever North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi is at the helm, the Tar Heels have a chance. UNC has now made 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, nine of which have been under Breschi, a 1990 UNC alum.

Breschi has also delivered two ACC Tournament championships, in 2013 and 2017, during his nine-year tenure in Chapel Hill. Furthermore, the coach has also delivered three shared ACC regular season titles — 2010, 2013 and 2016. While these accolades may be impressive, by far his biggest accomplishment was bringing the 2016 NCAA championship to Chapel Hill.

There is no doubt that Breschi is an accomplished coach, but there is still a question that he must overcome: How will he avoid another let down after last season?

The Tar Heels came into the 2017 season ranked No. 1 in the country, but they were not able to live up to those expectations. Now that North Carolina finds itself in the preseason top 10, Breschi will once again face lofty expectations.

Tough Schedule

UNC may be ranked No. 9 in the nation, but that does not necessarily translate into dominance. The Tar Heels were picked to finish third in the conference during the preseason voting, but all four of five ACC teams are ranked in the top 10.

Undoubtedly, the Tar Heels will be faced with tough competition throughout ACC play, so that makes a successful non-conference resume even more important. Some key non-conference match ups to look forward to will be games against No. 13 Johns Hopkins, No. 4 Denver and No. 2 Maryland.

In total, North Carolina will play seven of its 14 games against opponents ranked in the preseason poll. The Tar Heels may have a strong team returning for 2018, but their challenging schedule will play an equally important factor in regular-season success.

@ballermike28

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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