February 13, 2013

No Days Off: Holman North Carolina's Unquestioned Leader

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Marcus Holman can do it all on the field and is leading the Tar Heels in their quest for North Carolina's first national title since 1991.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Marcus Holman can do it all on the lacrosse field, yet the North Carolina senior attackman always thinks he could be doing a little more.

Holman is everything a team wants in a player. From the day he arrived on the Chapel Hill campus after a terrific high school run at Gilman School (Md.) in Baltimore, Holman could finish plays proficiently. With his much-improved dodging ability on display a year ago, he produced a team-high and career-high 39 goals by shooting 41.5 percent.

Through commitment to sharpening his field sense and stickwork, Holman has become a superb feeder. Last year's team-high and career-high 35 assists more than doubled Holman's total in his first two seasons combined.

Holman is everything a team wants in a leader. The Tar Heels declared that last fall, when they made Holman its sole captain — the first time that has happened since 1990.

"It's all of the little things with Marcus," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "He's the first one out to practice every day and the last one to leave. He's a big reason some of our younger guys are coming into watch [extra] film. Marcus brings his lunch pail every day. Either the other guys elevate their games in practice, or he's going to get in their mittens about it.

"[Holman] may not be the prettiest or the most athletic player we have. But he's being touted as a player of the year [candidate] and he's our hardest worker. He never takes a play off. He was the unanimous choice for captain. He owns the respect of his teammates."

"I'd be the first to tell you I don't have all of the answers," said Holman, who had plenty of answers — two goals and six assists — in the Tar Heels' season-opening, 16-8 rout over Air Force on Friday.

"We're trying to develop a culture here, where guys hold each other accountable on and off the field," he added. "I always need to be doing something to lead this team, like getting more freshmen to stay after [practice] to lift [weights]. You can't take any days off [as a captain], not when you're responsible for 45 guys every morning."

Throughout his Carolina career, a run that started with ACC rookie of the year honors in 2010, continued with team MVP honors in 2011 and second-team, All-America recognition last spring, Holman has been a centerpiece in Breschi's program.

Breschi, now in his fifth season at his alma mater, has made the Tar Heels relevant again. After making the NCAA tournament once between 1998 and 2007, Carolina has been there four straight times under Breschi, who guided the Tar Heels to a 46-21 record in his first four years.

Might this be the year the Tar Heels finally make that Memorial Day weekend leap again? Carolina claimed its last NCAA title in 1991, was last in the national championship game in 1993, and hasn't been past the quarterfinals since. Under Breschi, the Tar Heels have made it to the quarterfinals twice, in 2009 and 2010. They have lost in the first round the last two seasons.

"I always need to be doing something to lead this team... You can't take any days off [as a captain]."

— North Carolina captain Marcus Holman

Through all of the recent frustration that goes with those early exits in May, through all of the untimely failures in the Carolina defense when its typically explosive offense could not carry the Tar Heels in some key games, through the moments of growth and immaturity that have marked a program pursuing past glory, Holman has been a constant.

Holman has started 38 of 48 games, including all but two games since the outset of his sophomore season. He has accommodated a deep roster of scorers at times by playing his share of midfield — not his natural suit — and has just kept producing. By the end of his outstanding junior year, when he was a co-captain, Holman had scored 84 career goals on sizzling, 39.6 percent shooting.

Now, Carolina is Holman's team, and it will be interesting to see how much his leadership and sense of discipline and consistency rub off on the Tar Heels, who have made tangible strides, despite the abrupt postseason endings.

"I've enjoyed a good amount of [personal] success. It's been an awesome ride with some really good people," Holman said. "Team-wise, any player entering the world of Division I lacrosse wants to win a national championship. We've had some team success, although not of the tradition that Carolina has had.

"Carolina was in a tough place when Coach Breschi got here. He's done some things the program hadn't done for about 15 years. We were co-ACC champs when I was a freshman. We've beaten Maryland all three years. We beat Hopkins, Virginia and Maryland in the same year [2012] for the first time since 1993. Obviously, it's not the ultimate goal."

It's almost an injustice that a player of Holman's caliber at such a storied lacrosse school has enjoyed only one NCAA tournament victory so far. With the finish line of a tremendous collegiate career within sight, how appropriate it would be for the Holman-led Tar Heels to make that score right in a few months.

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