It had been a while since the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team had played a game – 15 days, to be exact – and so there was “some rust to shake off” on Sunday, coach Joe Breschi said, and that was especially true on defense.
On offense, though, the Tar Heels on Sunday once again proved their might during a 19-12 victory against Colgate in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Now UNC, the No. 3 national seed, is one victory from reaching the final four for the first time since 1993.
Breschi and his players expected to win Sunday – UNC is one of the favorites to reach championship weekend – but they might not have expected to win exactly as they did, while having to master a Colgate defense that switched from a man to a zone and back to man again. UNC’s dominant second quarter might have surprised, too.
The Tar Heels trailed 4-3 after the first quarter, but then Colgate switched to a zone defense. It caused some confusion until it didn’t, and once UNC figured it out – and once it began regularly winning faceoffs and securing ground balls – the game turned in a hurry.
UNC scored eight goals during second quarter – four during a fast-paced, five-minute flurry at the start of it – and by the end of the first half the Tar Heels led 11-6. By then, Colgate had already surrendered more goals than it had in in all but three of its previous 15 games.
“I think the biggest thing for us was we anticipated them playing man and zone, and I think you’re trying to figure out your opponent – specifically in the first quarter,” Breschi said. “We just talked about settling down, recognizing (the defense). The biggest thing for us was recognition.”
Luke Goldstock, a sophomore attackman, scored the Tar Heels’ first two goals of the second quarter, and those came less than two minutes apart. Goldstock scored twice more and his fourth of the day was his 48th of the season, which set a single-season school record. The record had stood since 1991.
“He beat my roommate’s record, Dennis Goldstein,” said Breschi, a 1990 UNC graduate. “So hats off to Dennis for holding it for two decades – 24 years. But Luke’s a terrific player.”
Goldstock credited his scoring success to the help he received Sunday – and has received throughout the season – from fellow attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey, who represent half the Tar Heels’ foursome of senior captains. Sankey also scored four goals Sunday, and Bitter scored twice.
UNC entered Sunday concerned about how it would fare against Colgate, which prefers a slower, more methodical pace. But the Tar Heels usually controlled the tempo thanks to their dominance in winning faceoffs (21-14) and ground balls (43-28). And after UNC’s somewhat slow start, midfielder Steve Pontrello said, “We opened up a little bit, (and) we settled down a little bit.”
Aside from the first 15 minutes and one prolonged stretch spanning the middle of the third period and the start of the fourth, UNC, which advanced to play against Maryland next weekend in the tournament quarterfinals in Annapolis, Md., had little trouble executing its offense. The Tar Heels’ 19 goals were the most Colgate had surrendered this season, and they were tied for the third most UNC has scored.
Amid the scoring bonanza, Goldstein’s record fell. Goldstein had set that record during UNC’s 1991 national championship season, back when the school was home to one of the premier men’s lacrosse programs in the nation.
Two years after that national championship UNC was back in the title game, where it lost. The Tar Heels haven’t back to the final four since that trip in 1993, though now they’re one victory from returning.
Which is perhaps why the celebration Sunday was tempered. It was, Breschi said, “business-like in the huddle” after the victory.
“We’re excited we won the game, but it wasn’t like rah-rah,” he said. “We’ve got another opportunity next week.”