March 11, 2011

UNC Goes 'Big on Big,' Shuts Down Princeton

by Bob Nuse |

Freshman midfielder Mark McNeill scored two goals Friday to help North Carolina erase an early deficit and defeat Princeton, 9-5.

© Peyton Williams

PRINCETON, N.J. -- It didn't take long for Joe Breschi to realize his North Carolina defense had a matchup problem with Princeton attackman Forest Sonnenfeldt.

At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Sonnenfeldt creates matchup problems for a lot of people. And the Princeton sophomore put the Tar Heels in an early 3-0 hole with two goals in the first quarter on Friday night at Class of 1952 Stadium.

But North Carolina had an answer, shifting its own 6-foot-4, 190-pound defenseman Ryan Flanagan over to deal with Sonnenfeldt. From that point on, the UNC defense limited Princeton to two goals over the final 47 minutes, rallying for a 9-5 win to improve to 5-1 on the season.

"Since the big fella scored a couple of early goals, we figured we'd matchup with big on big," Breschi said. "Ryan Flanagan did a great job. We called that timeout down 3-0 and just made a few adjustments. The offense played great. We didn't penetrate their defense early, but we said just keep shooting and putting pressure on and things will start to drop.

"Once we settled in defensively, it gave our offense the confidence to come back. Mark McNeill got us started and scored two big goals to get us back in it. I'm just so proud of the overall effort by the team."

Princeton jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of Sonnenfeldt goals and made it 3-0 on a goal by Chris McBride with 2:18 left in the first quarter. But from there the Tar Heels defense held Princeton without a goal for rest of the rest of the half. By the time the Tigers scored again midway through the third quarter, the Tar Heels had scored seven straight goals.

"Their big guy came in and punched in two quick goals so we switched up the matchups," said Flanagan, a senior who was co-national defenseman of the year as a junior. "I went over to [Sonnenfeldt] and we switched [Kevin] Piegare over to [Luke Armour] or [Cliff Larkin], whoever was in at the time. It was a tough matchup, but it was different going up against a guy that big. He's strong, but I think I prefer that to the little water bugs running around."

With the defense shutting down the Tigers for close to 23 minutes, the offense kicked into gear for the Tar Heels. Freshman Mark McNeill broke the ice with a goal and Marcus Holman scored just before the end of the first quarter. Thomas Wood would score three goals, with McNeill and Nicky Galasso also scoring to build a 7-3 lead.

"We felt like we were confident in what they were going to come at us with and the guys executed," Breschi said. "All the credit goes to the players and [goalkeeper] Chris Madalon settling in in the cage. He made a couple of saves in the second quarter that really ignited us.

"I credit the defense. It is a senior-laden group down there with Michael Burns and some of the other key midfielders, and the defense with Flanagan, Piegare and [Charlie] McComas with Madalon in the cage. It is a veteran group that did a great job settling in and just playing the game. When they settle in and play this game. we're pretty good defensively."

The win was the fourth straight for North Carolina (5-1), ranked 15th in the latest USILA poll. Seventh-ranked Princeton fell to 1-2 with the loss. For UNC, having a veteran defense and veterans on attack has helped give a young midfield a chance to settle in.

"We have a lot of experience on defense, and I think that helps us when we have a start like tonight where we get down by three goals early, " Flanagan said. "We didn't get rattled. We have a lot of experience on defense and with Chris in goal. And we also have experience on attack with Wood and [Billy] Bitter.

"And then in our midfield we have a lot of young guys who are getting better with every game. We have a lot of freshmen in the midfield and they are coming along. They are young guys who can play."

Those young guys played a role in the win over Princeton.

"We're playing nine freshmen, so they are getting their feet on the ground," Breschi said. "The offense kept to the game plan and took advantage of our opportunities."

After a loss to Ohio State to fall to 1-1, the Tar Heels have run off wins against Navy, UMBC, Penn and Princeton. The win over the Tigers was their third in six days, with their confidence growing each time out.

"We had three games in these last six days and we came out of it playing well," Flanagan said. "We felt like against UMBC we didn't play a complete game. And then we came out against Penn and played well for 58 or 59 minutes. Tonight we started a little slow, but then we felt like we played a pretty complete game after that. And now we have a big game coming up Thursday against Duke that we have to get ready for.

"This was a good win for us because we came in remembering last year's game against these guys. We had a lead (7-2) and they came back but we held on (for a 12-11 win). This time we played a pretty complete game."

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