Chapel Hill: Sports

Lacrosse: Wildcats settling into winning pattern

Wildcat Collin MacClennan (21) readies a shot on goal as Chapel Hill goalkeeper Anders Haaland goes for the save.
Wildcat Collin MacClennan (21) readies a shot on goal as Chapel Hill goalkeeper Anders Haaland goes for the save. PHOTOS BY JIM KENNY

Saying East Chapel Hill boys lacrosse is looking for stability is sort of saying Taylor Swift is looking for someone to date.

East has won four state championships, has produced dozens of NCAA Division One prospects and competes annually with crosstown rival Chapel Hill for the title of the best lacrosse team in Orange-Durham counties.

Lack of stability?

It’s not until you talk with East midfielder Ian Levin that one begins to understand the new era of East lacrosse is here, and the preceding years weren’t easy for the tradition laden program

“Our senior class has had three coaches in four years,” said Levin. “We’ve only had each other. In past years, we’ve been a little disorganized. This year we have great leadership from inside-out. Everybody is stepping up.”

Levin played his part on Thursday night, scoring five goals and three assists as East (9-3) defeated Chapel Hill 12-7 at Wildcats Stadium. Attacker Chris Cox added three goals for East, which claimed its third straight victory over the Tigers. Hank Bolon scored three goals for Chapel Hill (6-4), which played its second game of a four-game road trip.

“Our defense has played outrageous all year long,” said first-year East Coach Dominic Koplar. “We believe that, no matter the adversity we face on the field or off, we’re ready to play.”

East won the game on special teams. Despite committing a whopping eight penalties in the first half, East still scored three shorthanded goals in the first period to take a 5-0 lead. Levin and Cox scored two each in the opening period as East scored 5 goals on its first 9 shots.

Midway through the second quarter, East was hit with two separate penalties, leaving CHHS with a 6-on-4 advantage for two minutes. Yet the Tigers could only muster one goal from Bolon in that span, which narrowed the East lead to 7-3. Bolon would add another tally with 1:33 remaining in the first half to cut the Wildcat lead to 7-4, but CHHS would get no closer.

Levin scored three goals in the third quarter, including a whip shot past Tiger goalkeeper Anders Holland just 14 seconds into the frame. Holland finished with 15 saves.

Still just one game out of first in its conference, Chapel Hill will push for the playoffs with three games in the final week of the season – against Northwood, Wakefield and a home rematch against East next Thursday.

The victory was particularly sweet for Levin, who played CHHS for the final time in his home stadium.

“This is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had,” said Levin. “This means a lot to me. Last year, we beat them 11-2, and it felt the same way tonight. We dominated them in most aspects of the game.”

For Koplar, it’s a reminder that you can go home again. After serving the last two years as an assistant, Koplar became the first Wildcat alum in school history to return to East as a varsity head coach.

The Wildcats have won nine straight against in-state opponents since a season-opening stumble to top-ranked Cardinal Gibbons.

“These fellas can go as far as they choose to go,” said Koplar. “That’s what Ian, Chris and the captains have preached from day one.”