The NCAA D1 season is now underway! During the first couple of weeks of lacrosse season we’ll be finishing up the Alphabetical 2014 NCAA D1 Previews! Like last year, we are going through all of the D1 men’s teams for 2014 (there are 67 this year!) and we are now moving on to the North Carolina Tar Heels, located in Chapel Hill, NC.
Photo Credit: Craig Chase – see more scrimmage photos here.
UNC enters 2014 as the #2 team in the country, with a lot of returning talent, and extremely high expectations. Can UNC get back to the early 90s days when they were rattling off national championships left and right?
The Heels went 13-4 last year, and suffered a 12-11 loss to Denver to end their season. Wins over Air Force, Fairfield, and Princeton early on balanced out losses to UMass, Notre Dame, and Duke, putting the Heels at 3-3. They would win 10 straight games and become a title contender before the Denver loss. 2014 sees UNC take on their ACC slate of games (remember ND and Cuse are in the ACC now) and they also play Furman, Manhattah, Dartmouth, Princeton, Bucknell, Harvard, Hopkins, and High Point. UNC should start off hot, and Notre Dame should be their first real test on March 1st.
Marcus Holman and Davey Emala are gone from UNC’s potent offense, but Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter will lead the way at attack. Patrick Kelly proved to be a smart shooter last year, notching 6 goals on 10 shots, and could see some more time as a sophomore. UNC only has four attackmen on the roster, but with such a deep midfield and returners Sankey and Bitter, it’s not a huge concern.
Midfielders like Chad Tutton, Steve Pontrello, Ryan Creighton, Greg McBride, Pat Foster, TJ Kemp, and Jake Matthai bring back experience and a scoring punch. A couple could even play attack. The return of sophomore Mike Tagliaferri also bodes well for UNC and if players like Walker Chafee and Brent Armstrong can continue to step up, the Heels will have a ton of depth. RG Keenan returns to take face offs, and he gives UNC an edge in almost every match up.
Kieran Burke started at 17 games last year as a freshman and played just under 1000 minutes in his first year. Burke stopped about 54% of the shots he faced, and gave up 10 goals per game. Duncan Saunders redshirted last year, and is likely Burke’s biggest competition.
Helping out the keeper will be LSM Ryan Kilpatrick, who is a gb machine. Matt Shannon also plays LSM, can pick up a gb or two, and throws good checks. Jordan Smith anchors the defense, and will start in games for UNC for the fourth straight season. Zach Powers saw good time as a freshman and will be a staple down low. Evan Connell was a freshman starter last year and he’s back as a preseason AA. Jake Bailey is a guy who could turn into a regular starter this year and has a big frame and good mind for the game. Connor Hunt returns after a gap year absence and could work his way in. Carolina has DEPTH!
We know that UNC’s face off success is pretty much locked in. We know they have an athletic and experienced defensive unit as well. With a sophomore in net they have even more experience down low, and should be really solid when it comes to stopping opponents from scoring. Offensively, there are some gaps, but nothing that can’t be filled by extremely talented younger players stepping up. It’s actually amazing that one can say that.
For the first time in a long time UNC has tested depth all over the field. Barring any injuries, this is a team with just about zero holes. Their #2 preseason ranking makes sense. I’d like to see UNC grind out three early wins, and then unleash the beast little by little, so that they peak in April and May. If they’re peaking at that time the Heels are a definite title contender once again.
For more NCAA D1 Lacrosse coverage, check out Alphabetical 2013 NCAA D1 Preview: Air Force, Albany, Army, Bellarmine, Binghamton, Boston, Brown, Bryant, Bucknell, Canisius,
Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Delaware, Detroit, Drexel, Duke, Fairfield, Furman,
Georgetown, Hartford, Harvard, High Point, Hobart, Hofstra, Holy Cross, Jacksonville, Johns_Hopkins, Lafayette, Lehigh, Loyola, Manhattan, Marist, Marquette,
Maryland, Massachusetts, Mercer, Michigan, Monmouth, and Navy.