The members of the North Carolina men's lacrosse team consider themselves to be part of a brotherhood, and they've all experienced that sense of family in different ways, ever since the spread of COVID-19 brought the team's season to a premature end.
For junior attackman Chris Gray, who transferred from Boston University to UNC after his sophomore season, he felt that bond as soon as he arrived in Chapel Hill.
After Gray lit up the Patriot League by breaking the conference record with 111 points in his sophomore season, he picked up right where he left off with the Terriers in his first season as a Tar Heel, scoring 27 goals in the team's first seven games.
The team had gotten off to a 7-0 start and was ranked in the top five in the country with aspirations of a national championship. Then, on March 12, as the group finished up a practice, players saw the news on Twitter that their season had been shut down.
For Gray, having to say an early goodbye for the summer to the group that had welcomed him with such open arms was the hardest part.
"Since I stepped on campus in August, it’s been an absolute pleasure," Gray said. "The guys on the team are great, and we’re all so close, and I think that’s what makes it so hard right now; going home and not playing right now and just being away from the team because everyone’s just so close like that."
For sophomore attackman Nicky Solomon, his teammates' responses to the season being cut short are what has caught his eye the most when it comes to the sense of community surrounding the team.
He doesn't view the extended offseason as a hurdle that the squad has to overcome, because of how much they've been in contact despite players being spread throughout the country. The team's group chat is still firing off, players are FaceTiming each other and the team's chemistry remains intact.
"It's just a confidence booster," Solomon said. "I feel like it’s just going to carry on into next year."
From head coach Joe Breschi's perspective, the camaraderie among the team's seniors, especially considering the fluid situation in which their futures are left in limbo until UNC makes a decision about granting them an extra year of eligibility, has touched him dearly.
Once the team heard the NCAA's decision to cancel the remainder of the season, the seniors organized a group dinner at Chapel Hill's Lucha Tigre. During the dinner, calls and texts from former players and alumni poured in to share similar stories of adversity and thoughts about just how far of a postseason run the team could've made.
"I don't think there was a dry eye at the table," Breschi said.
But for Breschi, personally, that sense of family on the team also took on a more literal meaning.
Midfielder Alex Breschi, whose father is a cousin of the UNC head coach, was in the midst of his first season with the Tar Heels before everything was brought to an abrupt halt. He wasn't one of the stars of the team, but he had seen action in all seven games and managed to pick up two goals early in the year.
But the bond that the first-year and his coach share goes beyond the lacrosse field. The North Carolina coach's son, Michael, died in a car accident in 2004 at the age of three. Since then, the player and coach's relationship has developed into something more akin to a father and his son.
"It’s a little bit more meaningful than just the idea of him being my cousin’s son and having the chance to coach him," Breschi said. "Every time I look at him, I think of Michael. It’s pretty powerful."
Through all the various obstacles these Tar Heels have been forced to overcome over the last three weeks, one thing is certain: COVID-19 won't stop the culture of family they've cultivated.
"That’s what we’re all about," Breschi said. "We always stress family."
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