Even though its season doesn’t officially start until Friday, Feb. 11, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team played in three exhibition games in January — and they’re looking to make arrangements before the season opener.
The Tar Heels played their first exhibition game against the Navy in Annapolis, Maryland on Jan. 23. Six days later, the team returned to Chapel Hill to face the Air Force and Mount St. Mary’s in back-to-back exhibition games.
“It was great to play against someone else. I think we did a decent job, we played against everyone who traveled and everyone came out of the game healthy, which is the more important,” head coach Joe Breschi said. “For the younger guys, I thought it was a great opportunity for them to get their feet wet a bit, and certainly for the older guys, the leadership was solid.”
As one of the team’s main leaders, defensive midfielder Connor Maher said he was impressed with the balance the team showed, especially as it was his first real season test.
“I think we did a good job coming in not only with a ton of excitement, but we also came out with a good dose of focus which helped us settle into the game,” Maher said.
Maher played in all 16 games last season with 65 balls on the ground and 10 turnovers. Additionally, he scored one goal on five shots with two assists on the offensive side, earning him numerous individual honors.
In the scrimmage against Navy, Maher said he was pleased with how the team executed their drive defense, while keeping the contenders on a low clearing percentage.
“Driving and supporting an aggressive style of play has always been our identity, so it’s nice to be able to come out in our first scrum and show we’re going to be able to do that this year,” he said.
Senior forward Jacob Kelly spoke about the team’s performance against the Air Force and Mount St. Mary’s and said the offense unit developed play quickly and efficiently.
Although the Tar Heels led the nation last season with 16.31 goals per game, Kelly said he believes there is still more room to grow.
“Offensively we’re stealing and doing some really good things,” Kelly said. “We’re still building that cohesion and comfort with each other. Across the pitch, we’re ready to step up a gear from last year.
During his junior season, Kelly played in all 16 games and started in 11 of them, finishing with 20 goals, 11 assists, 28 rushes and four turnovers.
After two unusual previous seasons due to COVID-19 protocols, Kelly said he and his teammates are ready to return to more normal playing conditions in the coming weeks.
“The scrimmages are great, but there’s nothing quite like putting on the shirt and playing over there at Kenan (Stadium) or Dorrance Field,” Kelly said. “It’s what I live for, and it’s what the rest of the team lives for. We’re ready to go and we’re ready to finish the job unlike what we did last year. “
Entering his 14th year at the helm of UNC’s men’s lacrosse program, Breschi led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament nine times, but he’s still chasing his first national title since 2016.
Although Breschi said the current squad is athletic, they are also inexperienced, which makes any pre-season action important.
With the season just days away and three fights against ranked teams looming in the coming weeks, the preparation put in place in the scrums appears to be moving the Tar Heels in the right direction.
“We play hard, and that’s why I’m so proud of this group,” Breschi said. be so precious to us.
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