“Having those first couple go in the back of the net is like the best feeling I've ever had in my life,” Atayan said. “Playing at Carolina is a dream. When you can help your team out on the scoreboard … it’s just a dream come true.”
First year Zachary Tucci dominated the face-off for UNC, winning 21 of 27 possessions. Breschi described Tucci as the “five-star player of the game,” allowing the Tar Heels to play make-it take-it.
Despite the dominance at the centerline, the Tar Heels struggled with offensive turnovers that allowed the Paladins to ebb and flow their way back into the competition, including the final 10 minutes where UNC was outscored 4-0.
In just its second game with an 80-second shot clock, the team is still learning the impact of the college rule change on the sport.
“The shot-clock era is fantastic for the game,” Breschi said. “It’s faster, it gives more teams more opportunities to score and capitalize on their opportunities … We just got sloppy and they capitalized.”
The quick possessions contributed to more turnovers for the Tar Heels and more shots for the Paladins. The four goals came in spite of goalkeeper Jack Pezzulla, who matched his career high with 13 saves. In the fourth quarter alone UNC allowed Furman to take 12 shots.
Breschi conceded that in early February, his players’ conditioning is not where he expects it to be just yet. Playing hard through four quarters is taxing, particularly with a quicker pace of play. But the fatigue allowed the Tar Heels to showcase their young players off the bench.
Sophomore Alex Trippi relieved the starting attack line with a team-high three goals. He attributed senior leadership and the coaches for supporting young players who come in when the veterans are struggling.
“It trickles down,” Trippi said. “Everybody including the sophomores and the freshman just knows the coaches have confidence in us.”
The seniors on the team were members of the 2016 NCAA championship squad, but Breschi’s players know that his system is a meritocracy. The players who are at their best in the moment are the ones who will get playing time. What Breschi saw in practice set up the opportunities on the field on Saturday.
“Young guys are dominating right now, and Breschi knows that,” Tucci said. “He's a big supporter of freshmen getting on the field. And if you're going to excel in practice, you're going to play.”
While the Paladins didn’t go down without a fight, UNC got the expected victory in the end. The important takeaway for Breschi and his Tar Heels is just how deep he can go into his bench, and the high level of play he can expect from his young players even with a wave crashing down on them.
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