Tar Heels Stun No. 1 Maryland in OT to Win Men’s Lacrosse National Championship

With his hat turned backwards, and a smile stretching from ear to ear, UNC head men’s lacrosse coach finally got a chance to say what he’s been waiting to say since taking the job back in 2009.

As he hugged the TV interviewer, Breschi couldn’t hold it back.

“We just won the National Championship, baby!”

In a thrilling game that saw each team rally from multiple goal deficits, sophomore attacker Chris Cloutier delivered the knockout blow in overtime–giving the Tar Heels a 14-13 upset over top-ranked Maryland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Chris Cloutier scored the game-winner in overtime, his 14th goal of the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Chris Cloutier scored the game-winner in overtime, his 14th goal of the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

UNC (12-6) picks up its fifth national title and first since 1991–on the same day that 1991 team was honored at halftime for their 25th anniversary.

It also marks the second day in a row the Tar Heels have won a lacrosse championship at the expense of a No. 1 ranked Maryland team.

The Terrapin men (17-3) saw their 16-game win streak come to a stunning halt on Monday, much like their women’s team watched a 26-game streak fall by the wayside on Sunday.

Cloutier’s goal–his fifth of the game–was the final moment of a thrilling comeback that saw UNC rally from two goals down in the final four minutes of regulation just to tie the game.

A questionable penalty on Luke Goldstock with just seconds to play forced the Tar Heels to then hold off the Terrapins’ man-advantage opportunity in overtime.

Maryland looked to have found the game-winner during that tense first minute of the extra period, but a a miraculous save by goalie Brian Balkam–who stopped 13 shots in the game–somehow kept UNC alive.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Brian Balkam made the save of his life to keep UNC alive in the extra period. He finished with 13 saves in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Brian Balkam made the save of his life to keep UNC alive in the extra period. He finished with 13 saves in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

UNC earned a man-advantage of its own soon after Balkam’s save, which led to the goal heard all throughout Chapel Hill.

After scoring nine goals in the semifinals on Saturday, Cloutier again led the team in the biggest game of his career–finishing the Final Four with 14 goals.

The Ontario native also set a new NCAA Tournament record with 19 goals in UNC’s four games.

Goldstock had a hat trick for the Tar Heels in the first half, before eventually finishing with four goals.

Brian Cannon and Steve Pontrello each chipped in two goals apiece, while Patrick Kelly scored the goal that eventually sent the game to overtime.

The Terrapins were led by Matt Rambo’s three goal, three assist performance–as well as four goals from Connor Kelly.

Their effort helped Maryland fight back from an early 4-0 deficit to go ahead 8-7 at halftime.

Also key was the faceoff battle, as UNC won three of the first four faceoffs as it built the lead–before losing 10 of the next 13 while the Terrapins mounted their comeback.

During one stretch spanning the second and third quarters, the Tar Heels went over 17 minutes without scoring because they simply couldn’t get the quality possession time they had become accustomed to during the tournament run.

Breschi, in an attempt to gain some momentum, benched his faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly midway through the third quarter in favor of freshman Charles Kelly.

UNC becomes the first school to ever win the men's lacrosse national title with six losses. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

UNC becomes the first school to ever win the men’s lacrosse national title with six losses. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The move didn’t end up making much of a difference, leading to Stephen Kelly’s return during the crucial fourth quarter run.

Despite playing from behind for most of the final 15 minutes, UNC never lost focus–finding a counter for every punch Maryland threw until it was able to finally tie the game for good.

Goldstock’s late penalty, however, which came for retaliating against a push from a Terrapin defender, looked–for a moment–like it would surely doom the Tar Heels.

However, a resilient defense–and a save for the ages from Balkam–killed the penalty and delivered UNC the momentum it needed to finish the job.

Game Notes:

  • UNC becomes the first school since Princeton in 1994 to win both the men’s and women’s lacrosse national championships.
  • It was the highest scoring NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final since 2004.
  • The Tar Heels, unseeded in the tournament, became the first six-loss team to ever win the men’s lacrosse national title.
  • Prior to Cloutier’s game-winner, Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr made an impressive save on another shot by Cloutier right in front of the net. The scrum that followed led to a penalty on the Terrapins that gave UNC the game-deciding man advantage.

 

FINAL STATS

http://chapelboro.com/featured/tar-heels-stun-no-1-maryland-in-ot-to-win-mens-lacrosse-national-championship

Collins Defeats Hayley Carter in Straight Sets, Ends UNC’s Back-to-Back Title Hopes

Not only was Hayley Carter seeking her first national championship on Sunday at the Michael Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma–the UNC junior, ranked No. 1 in the nation, was hoping to give the Tar Heels back-to-back singles titles after Jamie Loeb won it all a year ago.

Unfortunately, Danielle Collins had other ideas.

The Virginia Cavaliers’ star defeated Carter in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, in the NCAA Women’s Tennis Final–putting on an absolute clinic in a matchup between the country’s top two players.

It’s the second career national championship for Collins, who also won as a sophomore in 2014.

For Carter, it’s a bitter pill to swallow after being atop the individual rankings since March 8. Her reign of nearly three months began shortly after she earned a straight set victory (7-6, 6-3) over Collins on March 4.

On top of that, it was Collins and Virginia that eliminated the Tar Heels from the NCAA Team Tournament just last week.

The match was just the third time all season Carter was defeated in straight sets–and first since November.

A native of Hilton Head, South Carolina, Carter finishes the season with a record of 49-5.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/collins-defeats-hayley-carter-in-straight-sets-ends-uncs-back-to-back-hopes

UNC Baseball Misses NCAA Tournament For Second Straight Year

The NCAA Baseball Tournament announced its field of 64 teams Monday afternoon, and yet again head coach Mike Fox and the Tar Heels found themselves on the outside looking in.

Prior to last season, UNC had made the tournament in 14 straight years–notching six trips to the College World Series during that streak.

Once a fixture in June, the Tar Heels have now had their season ended prematurely in consecutive years for the first time since 1996-97.

Despite boasting a solid 34-21 record and an RPI ranking of 19–the highest to miss the tournament–UNC was deemed the “first team out” by the NCAA Selection Committee.

The Tar Heels began the year 18-2, and were ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation earlier in the season according to some polls.

As the schedule got tougher, though, the offense slipped off a bit.

That late-season hitting swoon ultimately cost UNC a spot in the 10-team ACC Tournament–which was likely the final nail in its coffin.

Had the Tar Heels won one more ACC game, they would have qualified for the event.

Each of the 10 teams that played in Durham this past week were included in the field, giving the ACC a record-tying number of entries for one conference.

That seemed to be the deciding factor, as UNC was left out in favor of teams such as Duke and Boston College.

In their regular season series, the Tar Heels swept the Blue Devils in Durham–but with a stronger finish to the year Duke was selected for its first NCAA Tournament since 1961.

Boston College (31-20, 39th in the RPI) played its way into the ACC Tournament with a pair of wins on the final day of the regular season–earning the conference’s final at-large birth.

For the second week in a row, the Eagles–who didn’t play the Tar Heels this year–made it into the postseason at UNC’s expense.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-misses-ncaa-tournament-for-second-straight-year

Hayley Carter Advances to NCAA Women’s Tennis Final

Although she’s received many different accolades in her illustrious career, UNC women’s tennis star Hayley Carter has yet to win a national championship.

That may be changing soon.

The No. 1 ranked player in the nation, Carter reached the doorstep of her first title on Sunday–defeating No. 8 Sinead Lohan of the Miami Hurricanes 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in their NCAA Tournament Semifinal match at the Michael Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Carter–a three-time All-American who entered the tournament 44-4 for the Tar Heels in 2016–staged a tremendous rally after finding herself on the brink of elimination midway through the match.

After taking the first set with ease, Lohan took a 5-4 lead in the second–needing to win just one more game to advance.

It was an unusual spot for Carter, the 5-foot-11 junior, as she had yet to even be threatened–let alone play in a three-set match–during her tournament run.

Showing nerves of steel, though, she fought back to win the second set–before cruising to a third set victory that clinched her spot in the next round.

Now, she finds herself just one win away from the biggest moment of her career.

Up Next:

The championship match will pit Carter against No. 2 Danielle Collins of Virginia–a former national champion.

They have played each other three times already this season, with Carter holding a 1-0 record. The other two matches were suspended due to the team match finishing first.

Match Notes:

  • It was just Carter’s second three-set win of the year.
  • A two-time All-American as a sophomore, Lohan falls in the semifinals this year after bowing out in the quarterfinals as a freshman.

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/hayley-carter-advances-to-ncaa-womens-tennis-final

Mission Accomplished: UNC Women’s Lacrosse Defeats Maryland for National Championship

Facing a Maryland squad that had won back-to-back national championships–and won their last 26 games–it would have been easy for the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team to be a bit intimidated.

The Tar Heels were never fazed, though, as they handily defeated the No. 1 Terrapins 13-7 in Sunday’s NCAA Championship Game at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.

It’s the second national title in program history for UNC (21-2), which clinched the rubber match in the third championship meeting between the two schools over the last four years.

Senior attacker Aly Messinger tallied two goals and a career-high four assists to help the Tar Heels hand Maryland (22-1) its first loss since May 1, 2015.

Aly Messinger was an offensive force against the Terrapins, dishing out a career-high four assists in the first half. Her passing helped UNC go on a 6-0 run early in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Aly Messinger was an offensive force against the Terrapins, dishing out a career-high four assists in the first half. Her passing helped UNC go on a 6-0 run early in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Molly Hendrick added three goals for UNC, while Sammy Jo Tracy, Ela Hazar and Carly Reed each chipped in two.

The Tar Heels’ most important player, however, was senior goalie Megan Ward, who recovered in the best possible way after being benched in the first half of the team’s semifinal win over Penn State–a game where she allowed five goals on five shots.

Against the Terrapins, Ward was lights out. She saved a career-high 14 shots while limiting Maryland, which scores an average of nearly 16 times per game, to a season-low seven goals.

As impressive as she played, it wasn’t just Ward that was incredible defensively for the Tar Heels.

The UNC defenders combined to hold Maryland midfielder Taylor Cummings–a two-time Tewaaraton Award winner as the nation’s best player–to just a single goal.

The Tar Heels were simply too much for their opponents in every aspect of the game.

Despite scoring first, the Terrapins fell victim to the precise passing of Messinger and the Tar Heel offense the rest of the way.

Looking like former NBA point guard Steve Nash in his prime–dishing the ball all over the yard– Messinger had each of her four assists during a 20-minute first-half stretch. In that time, UNC scored the next six goals to go ahead 6-1.

Senior goalie Megan Ward made a career-high 14 saves in the National Championship Game. This after being benched in UNC's semifinal win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Senior goalie Megan Ward made a career-high 14 saves in the National Championship Game. This after being benched in UNC’s semifinal win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

For a brief period, it appeared as if Maryland had enough fight left to claw back from the biggest deficit it had faced all season.

The Terrapins unleashed a quick flurry of goals before halftime to make it 6-4, then later pulled within 7-6 early in the second half.

But the Tar Heels snuffed out the comeback with goals from Reed and Messinger within 15 seconds of one another–a sequence which kick-started a late 5-0 run that put the finishing touches on the finest season in the program’s history.

Each team would score only once more during the final 10 minutes, as the Tar Heels–just like in Friday’s win–were content to play stall-ball until the clock hit triple zeroes.

The result this time, though, was a national championship.

Game Notes:

  • UNC’s senior class ended their freshman year with a 2013 national title win over Maryland, and closed their careers in the same fashion.
  • Tar Heel senior midfielder Kelly Devlin was ejected from the game in the first half for picking up two yellow cards.
  • Maryland defeated UNC 8-7 in the regular season on Feb. 27–which is still the Tar Heels’ last loss. The Terrapins also hold a 9-8 victory over UNC in last year’s NCAA Final.

 

FINAL STATS

http://chapelboro.com/featured/mission-accomplished-unc-womens-lacrosse-defeats-maryland-for-national-championship

Cloutier Sparks UNC’s Win over Loyola, Tar Heels on to NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Final

It was almost like re-watching the same movie or Vine over and over again.

Chris Cloutier just kept scoring and scoring and…well you get the point.

When it was all said and done, the UNC sophomore attacker ended up with a Final Four record nine goals–as the Tar Heels hammered the No. 7 Loyola Greyhounds 18-13 in Saturday’s NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Semifinal at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

It was the latest outstanding performance from a UNC squad (11-6) that clearly is peaking at the right time.

The reward is a shot for the school’s first National Championship in the sport since 1991, and a chance to be the first six-loss team to ever win an NCAA Championship.

Steve Pontrello had two goals and a career-high three assists against Loyola. Two of those assists were to Chris Cloutier. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Steve Pontrello had two goals and a career-high three assists against Loyola. Two of those assists were to Chris Cloutier on passes from behind the net. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Loyola (14-4) fought valiantly to keep the final score respectable, but never once had control of the game in its first loss since March 12.

Steve Pontrello, Luke Goldstock and Timmy Kelly each added two goals for UNC, while Brian Cannon, Patrick Kelly and William McBride chipped in one apiece.

Six of Cloutier’s goals came during a first half where the Tar Heels outscored their opponents 14-5–putting the game away before it ever had a chance to get started.

UNC used its athletic advantage to break down Loyola’s man-to-man defense during the early portion of the first quarter–simply running free of their matchups, then finding Cloutier in front of the net ready to dump it in.

“He’s big, strong, he’s tough, he can turn the corner and he’s getting to the middle of the field–which is big,” UNC head coach Joe Breschi said, when asked what makes Cloutier so good. “And his teammates are sharing the ball.”

A clearly shaken Loyola team–trailing 9-2 after just 15 minutes–swapped out their talented goalie Jacob Stover for backup Grant Limone, while also falling back into a more conservative zone defense.

The result was more goals for the relentless Tar Heel attack, which was enabled by junior Stephen Kelly’s 14 face-off wins in 21 attempts.

At one point early in the second quarter, UNC scored three goals in 15 seconds–two by Cloutier–thanks to a pair of fastbreaks started by Kelly’s faceoff work.

Down by nine goals at the break, Loyola could have easily let up.

Goalie Brian Balkam and the UNC defense held strong in the second half when the offense went through a scoring drought. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Goalie Brian Balkam and the UNC defense held strong in the second half when the offense went through a scoring drought. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

As the Tar Heels became more patient in their approach, however, the Greyhounds turned up their intensity level on both sides of the ball.

After Cloutier’s eighth goal made UNC’s lead 16-8 late in the third quarter, Loyola held the Tar Heels scoreless over the next 15 minutes.

Not until the score was 16-12–and just over five minutes left on the clock–did Cloutier get back on the board.

The Greyhounds put one more in the net after that, but Pontrello countered to give UNC the final goal.

Just as his tears defined the team’s emotional victory over Notre Dame last weekend, Breschi couldn’t help but flash a big grin once it was all over in this one.

“We’ve got one more game,” Breschi said. “We’re playing Monday.”

Up Next:

UNC awaits the winner between No. 1 Maryland and No. 5 Brown.

The National Championship is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday.

Game Notes:

  • Cloutier broke Billy Bitter’s school record of eight goals in a game, and became the first player from any school to score nine in an NCAA Tournament game since 1992.
  • Loyola star freshman Pat Spencer finished the game with one goal and five assists.
  • UNC’s 18 goals were the most it’s scored since a 20-10 win over Michigan in the season opener back on Feb. 6

 

FINAL STATS

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/cloutier-sparks-uncs-win-over-loyola-tar-heels-on-to-ncaa-mens-lacrosse-final

Carly Reed Lifts UNC Women’s Lax Past Penn State, Into Title Game

Just over a minute into Friday’s NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Semifinal between No. 3 UNC and the Penn State Nittany Lions, Tar Heel midfielder Carly Reed received a pass from teammate Aly Messinger and put it in the back of the net.

That was simply foreshadowing for what was to come.

The junior from Alexandria, Virginia ended up scoring five times, as UNC survived a late Penn State rally to win by a score of 12-11–lifting head coach Jenny Levy’s Tar Heels to their second straight National Championship Game appearance, and third in the last four seasons.

Aly Messinger scored two goals and had two assists in UNC's win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Aly Messinger scored two goals and had two assists in UNC’s win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

By holding off the pesky Nittany Lions (14-7), UNC (19-2) also set a school record with its 16 straight win.

Aly Messinger (two goals, two assists) and Marie McCool (one goal, three assists) each contributed four points to the Tar Heel cause, while Sammy Jo Tracy scored the team’s final two goals midway through the second half.

Despite leading 12-7 with just under 15 minutes to play following Tracy’s second goal, the Tar Heels had already allowed Penn State to pull off a 5-0 run earlier in the game.

UNC scored its first three goals before the Nittany Lions responded by finding the back of the net on each of their first five shots.

A switch at goalie–from Megan Ward to Caylee Waters–and a motivated performance by Reed swung momentum back over to the Tar Heels.

In the ten minutes leading up to halftime, Reed scored three consecutive goals. Waters’ effort in the net held Penn State to just one goal during that span–giving UNC a 7-6 lead at the break.

Momentum stayed with The Tar Heels as they exploded out of the locker room for five goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half–including another by Reed–while holding their opponents to just one.

Not wanting to go down without a fight, however, the Nittany Lions roared back by scoring four straight times over the next eight minutes.

Defender Abby Smucker led Penn State’s final run by notching a pair of goals, but the effort was snuffed out when UNC fell into a “prevent” offense of sorts.

The Tar Heels return to the National Championship for the third time in four years, hoping to repeat their success from 2013. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels return to the National Championship for the third time in four years, hoping to repeat their success from 2013. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Their lead cut to just a single tally, the Tar Heels–who already run a patient attack centered around ball movement–unleashed the lacrosse equivalent of Dean Smith’s “Four Corners” offense over the final 7:18.

For nearly six minutes they played keep away from the Penn State defenders, never once appearing interested in taking a shot.

By the time they finally got the ball back, the Nittany Lions were only able to manage one more shot before the clock ran out.

UNC regained possession with 45 seconds left–then held on to lock up yet another trip to the season’s final game, a place they’ve become quite familiar with.

Up Next:

The National Championship game is scheduled for noon on Sunday, with UNC taking on the winner between No. 1 Maryland and No. 4 Syracuse.

Game Notes:

  • Penn State held UNC’s leading scorer, Molly Hendrick, to just one goal. She has 56 in the Tar Heels’ 21 games.
  • The Tar Heels haven’t lost since Feb. 27, when they fell 8-7 to top-ranked Maryland at home.
  • Waters saved eight of the 14 shots she faced after entering the game in goal for UNC midway through the first half.

 

FINAL STATS

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/carly-reed-lifts-unc-womens-lax-past-penn-state-into-title-game

Marquise Williams Signs With Green Bay Packers

The most prolific quarterback in UNC football history is now a Cheesehead.

It was announced late Thursday afternoon that Marquise Williams, who went undrafted in April’s NFL Draft, was signed to a rookie contract by the Green Bay Packers.

The Charlotte native also had a tryout with the Packers’ division rival–the Minnesota Vikings–earlier this month before eventually ending up in Wisconsin.

Now the fourth quarterback on Green Bay’s roster, Williams will compete with former UCLA star Brett Hundley and fellow rookie Joe Callahan–last season’s Division III Player of the Year at Wesley College.

Each man will battle during training camp to be the backup to Aaron Rodgers, with at least one of them likely to be cut during the preseason.

Tar Heels vs Cavaliers

Marquise Williams added an extra dimension to the UNC offense with his superb rushing skills. (Photo via Smith Cameron Photography)

Williams also leaves behind a legacy that still may loom over Kenan Stadium in the fall.

Junior Mitch Trubisky will take control of the Tar Heel offense after two years studying under Williams–and at times taking over for him whenever he was struggling, or if his helmet was knocked off by a defender.

A highly talented player in his own right, Trubisky will still have some large shoes to fill.

Over the course of his career in Chapel Hill, Williams played in 48 games–starting in 33 of them. He also set or tied more than 20 school records at the helm of head coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense.

No Tar Heel signal caller has ever run for as many yards (2,458) or touchdowns (35) as the 23-year-old Williams.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (2010-2013) and NC State’s Philip Rivers (2000-2003) are the only ACC quarterbacks to have tallied more than Williams’ 99 career touchdowns–when factoring in passing, rushing and receiving scores.

That versatility helped the Tar Heels become one of the nation’s premier offensive forces over the past couple seasons, as he capped his career in 2015 by leading UNC to its first ACC Coastal Division Championship en route to a school-record 11 wins.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/marquise-williams-signs-with-green-bay-packers

Speculation Surrounds Fedora Following Briles’ Firing at Baylor

Engulfed in a crippling scandal that saw the school and its football coaches routinely fail to investigate sexual assault allegations against its players–Baylor University suspended head coach Art Briles on Thursday with intention to terminate him.

As a result, the internet–as it tends to do–immediately began speculation about who would replace Briles, naming UNC head coach Larry Fedora as the school’s likely first target.

Fedora and Briles each came up through the coaching ranks in Texas, crossing paths a number of times when Fedora was an assistant at Baylor recruiting some of Briles’ players at Stephenville High School.

In eight seasons under Briles, Baylor rose to national prominence using a high-tempo offense similar to the one used by Fedora at UNC.

The Bears also defeated Fedora’s Tar Heels 49-38 in last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl, running for 645 yards with their top three quarterbacks each sidelined–showing they still have the talent to compete on the national level the next couple years with or without Briles at the helm.

However, there has been no indication so far that Fedora would be interested in taking the job, despite the numerous connections.

For one, the 53-year-old just signed a new contract extension at UNC in December which adds four years to his current seven-year deal–meaning it won’t expire until after the 2022 season.

His original contract signed in 2011 was worth upwards of $2 million per year, making him the highest paid football coach in the school’s history.

Upon his arrival in Chapel Hill, Fedora also entered into the beginning of the NCAA academic scandal that still has yet to reach a resolution.

It’s unlikely that he would want to jump from the ending of one long-running scandal into the beginning of another.

And let’s not forget, the Tar Heels are coming off a 2015 season where they tallied a school-record 11 wins and won the ACC Coastal Division Title.

He wouldn’t exactly have to leave North Carolina to chase more wins in the future, either, given the amount of talent UNC returns next season.

Fedora was unavailable for comment on the issue, as it is the longstanding policy of both he and UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham to not comment on any type of coaching speculation.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/speculation-surrounds-fedora-following-briles-firing-at-baylor

After Emotional Week, UNC Men’s Lacrosse Turns Focus to Loyola

When UNC men’s lacrosse head coach Joe Breschi broke down into tears following last weekend’s win over Notre Dame, it capped off what had been an extremely emotional week for the Tar Heels.

Their task this week in Philadelphia, though, is to try and set those emotions aside as they prepare to face the No. 7 Loyola Greyhounds in the Final Four on Saturday.

A self-proclaimed “big relationship guy,” Breschi and his team shared a few special moments when UNC had to travel to Columbus, Ohio—where he once coached at Ohio State—for its quarterfinal matchup against the Fighting Irish.

Not only were the Tar Heels seeking their first Final Four spot in over two decades, their coach was returning to the state where—in 2004–his 3-year-old son, Michael, was struck and killed by an SUV outside his preschool.

The love the Tar Heel players have for their coach--and for each other--has helped get them to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The love the Tar Heel players have for their coach–and for each other–has helped get them to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Add all that together, and it’s obvious why Breschi–considered a father figure by many of his players–had a hard time holding his emotions back during the week.

“I think at every team meeting over the weekend, I cried” Breschi said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Just by talking about different moments throughout, visiting the cemetery and so forth.

“When Patrick Kelly said he wanted to speak to the team before the game at our team meal, I said absolutely.”

One of UNC’s most consistent all-around players in the midfield and on the attack, Kelly has put together a fine senior season—tallying 25 goals and eight assists.

But what he said that morning perhaps meant more to Breschi and company than anything he’s done on the field this season.

“Patrick said, ‘You know, none of us would be here if it wasn’t for Coach and him bringing us here to North Carolina.’” Breschi told reporters.

Kelly continued by saying “This is a special place for him and his family. Having Michael at the cemetery 20 minutes from where we’re playing—let’s dedicate [the game] to Michael and Coach’s family.”

Following the speech, Breschi continued doing what he had done all week.

“I cried…again, just trying to chest bump and pump everybody up,” he said.

Using Kelly’s words as motivation, the Tar Heels upset Notre Dame—the preseason No. 1 team—leading to that unforgettable sideline moment for Breschi.

Despite all that, there’s still more to be done if the team wants to reach its ultimate goal of a National Championship.

Loyola is 14-3 this year, and hasn’t lost in over two months. The Greyhounds also possess some of the nation’s top young stars—which has been a key focus of UNC’s scouting this week.

“We know how talented they are,” Breschi said. “They’re so well-coached. Very well-organized on offense and then on defense obviously they have a freshman goalie who’s very talented.

Freshman Pat Spencer (right) has led Loyola on a winning streak that spans more than two months. (Laxmagazine.com)

Freshman Pat Spencer (right) has led Loyola on a winning streak that spans more than two months. (Laxmagazine.com)

“And Pat Spencer is not only one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of the best players in the country,” he continued. “We’ve got our hands full across the board, so it’s been all Loyola since we met on Monday.”

The freshman goalie Breschi mentioned, Jacob Stover, has saved 59 percent of the shots he’s faced this year for the Greyhounds. UNC goalie Brian Balkam, a solid player in his own right, has a save percentage of just 50 percent.

Then there’s Pat Spencer, the wunderkind. He leads Loyola in scoring with 36 goals and 47 assists—more than twice as many points as any of his teammates.

It’s talented players like Stover and Spencer that give the Tar Heels no choice but to put last week’s emotions in the rearview mirror.

Listening to UNC’s senior captain, Jake Matthai, it’s clear the team is locked in on the task ahead—with their lifelong dream sitting just two wins away.

“In the offseason, it’s not really the offseason—you’re working so hard toward this goal, to be the best team in the country,” Matthai said. “So to know that we have another shot–another opportunity—this weekend is such a special feeling.

“And I’ll say it again–the work is not over,” he continued. “We have two games to reach that goal, and a great team in front of us on Saturday.

“We know it’ll take everything we have to beat this team.”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/after-emotional-week-unc-mens-lacrosse-turns-focus-to-loyola