Just nine seconds into the second sudden-death overtime of the 1992 NCAA men’s lacrosse championship, Princeton midfielder Andy Moe netted a championship winning goal against Syracuse.
It was that moment, 23 years ago, that then-Princeton offensive coordinator David Metzbower first experienced the thrill of winning it all.
Most of the players he now coaches at North Carolina weren’t born.
“The one time you win it, you want to go back and do it again,” said Metzbower, UNC’s new offensive coordinator. “I’ve done it several times to the point where it kind of drives me. … It kind of allows you to validate what you’re doing and why you’ve been investing so much of your time and energy into it.”
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After six national championships, and with a resume robust with players listed among college lacrosse’s all-time best, Metzbower moved this season to Chapel Hill in an attempt to help the Tar Heels win their first national title since 1991, the year before Metzbower won his first.
The Tar Heels have been good, just not good enough. They’ve made the NCAA tournament in all seven of coach Joe Breschi’s seasons, but they’ve failed to crack into the final four.
“I thought it was a time for a change and a mentality offensively,” Breschi said. “We knew each other and his credentials spoke for themselves. It was a really a no-brainer to try to pursue him.”
For the Tar Heels, having Metzbower run the offense isn’t just about scoring goals. The Tar Heels are perennially a top-5 scoring team. It’s about lessening the structure and giving players more freedom, whereas previous versions ran far more set plays.
This season, the Tar Heels’ attack resembles something closer to basketball’s motion offense, said captain Jimmy Bitter.
“The plays don’t really matter,” Bitter said. “He doesn’t care what we do on the field in terms of plays as long as we’re making the right decisions.”
Instead of micromanaging during games, Metzbower prefers to teach principles during practices and then give his players more ownership of the offense during games.
“When they get out there, they make some decisions on their own,” Metzbower said. “Instead of them thinking about what play they’re running, they’re playing at a fast pace.”
The Tar Heels are senior-laden, but the veterans quickly adapted to Metzbower’s philosophy.
The goal now, entering Sunday’s NCAA quarterfinal against Maryland, is for the veterans such as Bitter and Joey Sankey to take the Heels to the Final Four.
Bitter and Sankey statistically are the best attacking duo in UNC history. Metzbower thinks they have potential to be compared with great Princeton players who helped Metzbower win six championships.
“If we can win this weekend and take us back to championship weekend, it’ll just cement their career as being two of the all-time great attackmen,” Metzbower said.