Men's lacrosse: Revenge to stoke UNC semifinal bid today
North Carolina coach Joe Breschi has already broken some long-time streaks since he came back to lead his alma mater in 2009.
The Tar Heels snapped a 21-game losing skid against ACC opponents, and earlier this season won the four-team ACC Tournament for the first time in 17 years.
Next up is an even bigger hurdle — with a win against No. 4 Denver today at Indianapolis (noon, ESPNU), No. 5 UNC will make the NCAA Tournament semifinals for the first time since 1993.
“We hear all the time about how we haven’t been to the final four in 20 years,” all-ACC sophomore attackman Joey Sankey said. “And so we’re sick of hearing about it and we’re just really anxious to try and prove that we’re a talented team and have the potential to move on.”
UNC has won four national titles, but Sankey was a year old the last time it won a quarterfinal game. To break a six-game losing streak in the quarterfinal round, the Tar Heels (13-3) will have to beat the team that knocked them out 16-14 last season in a thrilling first-round game at UNC’s Fetzer Field.
“Everyone’s really hungry,” Sankey said. “The whole coaching staff has been talking about how perfect our situation is right now — having the chance to play the team that knocked us out last year — so we’re all really anxious and excited to play Denver.”
Compared to last year’s team, Breschi said the offensive chemistry has improved, the tempo is faster, the faceoff and wing play is better and freshman goalie Kieran Burke has steadied the defense.
UNC also has ACC offensive player of the year Marcus Holman, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and the longest winning streak in the country (10 games).
“This year in particular the confidence has been terrific,” Breschi said. “These guys are just spilling out confidence every game we play.”
Today’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium is expected to be another high-scoring contest between the two teams, which scrimmaged in the preseason.
UNC is fourth nationally in offense (13.5), having just put up 16 goals in the first round against a Lehigh team that was second in the country in scoring defense (7.4). Denver (13-4) is fifth in scoring (12.7) and tallied 19 in a five-goal win over Albany last weekend.
NOTES — This is the first time the NCAA Tournament will be played at a neutral site that’s not on the East Coast. UNC has played in Indianapolis once before, a 16-6 win over Butler in 1996. … The UNC-Denver winner will face either No. 1 Syracuse or Yale on Saturday at Philadelphia.