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Thursday October 6th

Despite loss to Duke, UNC men's lacrosse attackman Chris Gray makes history on Sunday

UNC senior attackman Chris Gray (4) prepares to catch the ball during the game against Notre Dame on April 25, 2021 at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels' defeated the Fighting Irish 12-10.
Buy Photos UNC senior attackman Chris Gray (4) prepares to catch the ball during the game against Notre Dame on April 25, 2021 at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels' defeated the Fighting Irish 12-10.

Not all endings can close in storybook fashion. 

And with the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team’s 19-11 loss to Duke on Sunday night, the season is all but over – barring a surprise at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

But, as a post-game huddle arrayed with hugs, tears and soft whimpers of defeat might suggest, those in the shiny Carolina blue tops knew their fate. 

The season’s end had come, but not without a historic accomplishment by graduate attacker Chris Gray.

“It’s hard to put it into words this fresh off the loss,” head coach Joe Breschi said. “It’s tough to end this way for sure.” 

North Carolina gained the early possession and looked to strike first behind team captain Gray. Coming into the contest, the transfer from Boston University sat five points shy of Lyle Thompson, the all-time NCAA Division I leader in career points. 

Gray creeped closer to the record-breaking mark after finding senior attackman Nicky Solomon at the left side of the cage for the easy top-shelf finish, just over 90 seconds into the game. The connection appeared seamless — a product of the chemistry the two players have built over the years.

“I get texts from Gray every second saying ‘let’s go shoot,’” Solomon remarked about his teammate.

The assist brought Gray closer to breaking the record, but it was immediately countered by a persistent Duke attack. The Blue Devils netted three of the next four goals, and it looked as if the Tar Heels were prepared to fold under adversity.

But, on a night like this – with the stakes ramped up to unforeseen heights – quitting was not an option. 

“The guys fought like hell,” Breschi said. “They put everything they had into every play tonight.”

The fight of the Tar Heels initially prevailed behind the stick of Gray, as North Carolina took a one-point advantage into the half, 7-6. Yet, it wasn’t his scoring, but rather Gray’s willingness to trust his teammates, that jolted UNC to this early lead. Gray recorded two more assists to notch three total in the first two quarters of play.

“As a teammate, he’s one of our best friends,” Solomon said. “And, that speaks highly of his lacrosse skills on the field.” 

Despite a tightly contested first half, the Blue Devils opened the game up during the third period. It took the home team just 30 seconds to tie the game up, as Nakeie Montgomery’s bouncing goal sparked a string of eight unanswered goals scored by Duke.  

By the end of the third quarter, there was doubt. It looked as though North Carolina's season was ending. Even so, Gray’s chase to the mountaintop lay just two goals away. 

In the final quarter of his collegiate career, Gray stepped up to the challenge.

After tying Thompson’s mark with an unassisted goal two minutes into the fourth, Gray found himself on the precipice of the record. After a dish from Solomon, Gray sprinted around the cage, whirled to his left and fired a shot that sunk just below the crossbar.

A mob of silver helmets ensued.

“The guy’s a legend,” Solomon said. “I’m so proud of him.”

And though such an accomplishment would suffice as a storybook ending to many, the legendary night only serves as a bandage to heal Gray’s wounds as his career comes to an end.

One, that in the words of the now NCAA Division I all-time leader in points, is a bittersweet curtain call. 

“That hardest part is going to be taking this jersey off and never putting it back on,” Gray said. “I would trade all of them (goals) away for a shot at the postseason.” 

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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