One of the main storylines of the No. 10 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team’s season has been the dominance of senior attackman Chris Cloutier.
With his six-goal performance in the Tar Heels’ 14-7 win over Mercer on Wednesday, the Ontario native scored in his 25th consecutive game, tying former Tar Heels Harper Peterson and Luke Goldstock for the third longest streak in program history.
But while eyes are turned toward Cloutier as the main offensive leader for the Tar Heels (5-0), there’s an equally important streak occurring that has led to UNC’s early-season success.
Junior attackman Andy Matthews just racked up his 14th straight game with an assist, tying Marcus Holman for the sixth longest streak in team history. And while his achievement might not be as flashy as Cloutier’s, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team.
“Last year, with all the losses we’ve had, I knew that I would have to step up," Cloutier said. "And it’s been easy because I have guys like Andy, who played last year. Andy is dominant at the X and organizes everything for us as an offense.”
After losing 10 seniors, nine of whom saw significant playing time, the Tar Heels have needed to rely on new leaders to pilot the team in hopes of winning a national championship. And with a prodigious scorer like Cloutier, it seemed natural for Matthews to man the role of field general this season.
“I really think Andy Matthews quarterbacks the offense,” head coach Joe Breschi said. “But, Cloutier makes it run.”
The duo has contributed 20 goals and 14 assists this season, working off each other’s strengths to lead UNC to a perfect start in its first five games. And as with Cloutier, Matthews deflects any sort of praise regarding such a start.
“My job’s the easiest job,” Matthews, a Baltimore native said. “I have to play off of five other guys who are obviously incredibly talented and doing so well right now.”
Neither member of the offensive tandem prioritizes their personal achievements. Their focus is on the team, and what they can do on and off the field to repeat the success of their 2016 championship run.
“It was time for these guys to step in and take on bigger roles,” Breschi said. “It wasn’t pretty early, but I think the fact that we won close games shows that we learned from those mistakes and seem to be getting better. That’s our goal: to play unselfish lacrosse at the offensive end.”
Unselfish lacrosse is a way to describe Cloutier and Matthews' play this season. With each game, they aren’t focused on the records that could easily end with one off day. They want the team to get better.
And if their streaks continue because of that, so be it.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Cloutier said. “Learning from each game and building on each game. Coach’s motto is, ‘As long as we can get better each and every game, we’ll be in good shape.’”
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