April 9, 2010

Experience Bodes Well for Tar Heels' Freshmen

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Joe Breschi wore a smile that wasn’t going to come off for a while.

The North Carolina coach brought his team to Johns Hopkins last Saturday without his top two scorers. The Tar Heels left with an 11-7 victory and a perfect record intact.

"I thought we got better this week,” Breschi said then. “We lost a couple guys, but we got better.”

And that’s downright scary for everyone else as soon as midfielder Sean DeLaney and attackman Thomas Wood return.

North Carolina survived against Maryland without star attackman Billy Bitter, who missed a week with a strained calf. And now, the Tar Heels are doing just fine without DeLaney and Wood heading into Saturday’s showdown with fellow unbeaten Virginia at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

It’s coming from youth, a place no one really could have counted upon receiving this much help so soon. And it is only going to get better.

“I think down the road this is really going to help us, in late April and hopefully into May that a win like this where these freshmen are getting reps and punching home some goals and making plays out there will help their confidence when we get some of these guys back,” Breschi said.

Wood, a sophomore, sat out with an ailing finger. That just meant freshman Marcus Holman slid back into the lineup to make his fifth start -- all to spell injured Tar Heels. Holman started three games early in place of Gavin Petracca, and then filled in when Bitter was hurt two weeks ago.

DeLaney suffered a shoulder injury in a March 27 defeat of Maryland, depriving the Tar Heels of a 20-goal scorer from the outside.

The impact? It existed, but freshman Ian Braddish simply drew his first career start and scored a goal against the reeling Blue Jays.

“Playing without DeLaney is a big deal, because you lose a guy who stretches you defensively,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “You lose a guy that could possibly command a pole and force you to put a short stick down on an attackman. But I know that feeling… That’s part of the game and we all have to deal with it. They’re a deeper team than people think. I think they showed people that.”

It isn’t just immediate replacements making a difference for the Tar Heels. Midfielder Chris Layne scored the go-ahead goal in the second quarter. Freshman Cam Wood, who had yet to record a goal in his career, raced around Hopkins defensemen Matt Drenan and Tucker Durkin while trying to burn the clock before finally taking an empty-net opportunity.

Those developments are encouraging. So, too, would the return of DeLaney, which Breschi anticipates occurring before the season is through.

“He’s doing OK,” Breschi said. “It’s going to be a week-to-weeker, but we hope to get him back at some point. It’s just one of those things we’re going to let the physicians take the lead on that. We’re never going to put anybody in a position to get hurt worse, but Sean is such a tough kid. We hope to get him back at some point.”
For now, DeLaney has a good view of Breschi’s rapid building process. North Carolina is 10-0 for the first time since 1991 -- the last time it won the title. It is entrenched in the top five, something that hasn’t happened many seasons since the Tar Heels last visited the final four in 1993.

Sure, Carolina is shorthanded. But its roster oozes talent, more than enough to prevent a stumble to this point.

“It’s incredible,” Bitter said.

Even better: The best could well still be on the way.

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