Perseverance pays off for North Carolina
Trailing 4-1 at the end of the first quarter against an energized rival and in a hostile environment might have been the death knell for North Carolina a few years ago.
But rather than fold, the Tar Heels rallied to convincingly beat then-No. Maryland, 11-6, on Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
“I think for our young guys to go up there at this point in the season and just play with the confidence that they had, just staying the course was the biggest thing,” recalled North Carolina coach Joe Breschi, who burned through his two first-half timeouts within the first nine minutes of the contest. “Now they’re looking at you with both eyes instead of one in the huddle, saying, ‘You know what? You’re right. If we stay the course, maybe good things will happen.’ Not that we’ll win every game, but we’ll have a chance to win every game, and that’s all we asked our guys. … I think for us, it was a game that we matured in and got better. It didn’t start off the way everybody anticipated on our end. They took it to us, but we were able to withhold and stay in it long enough to get our own act together.”
The Tar Heels, who improved to 7-2 and moved to No. 5 in The Sun’s latest rankings, get another test Sunday at the Konica Minolta Big City Classic when they meet No. 6 Johns Hopkins (6-2) at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Breschi, who was impressed with the Blue Jays’ 12-11 win over then-No. 2 Virginia, said the Johns Hopkins team from Saturday’s victory is far removed from the version that fell to Princeton, 8-3, on March 5.
“I think when you start in February, much like us, teams are trying to figure out an identity – who they are and what they’re good at, who’s going to contribute and who’s going to be a consistent contributor – and they’ve done a terrific job of figuring out who they are,” Breschi said Wednesday. “With the amount of goals that they’re scoring and the number of points they’re putting up and a terrific team-defense style, they’re really putting pressure on opponents’ defenses. … I think for them, the 8-3 game against Princeton is so far in the past, and the way they’re playing now, they’re certainly one of the best teams in the country.”
One ingredient that could play a role in the outcome is the availability of freshman faceoff specialist R.G. Keenan, who absorbed a pair of bone-rattling hits in the win against the Terps, and junior attackman Thomas Wood, who has missed the last two games with an unspecified injury. Breschi said he would lean on the school’s training staff before clearing Keenan and Wood for Sunday.
“We’re never going to put somebody in a position to hurt himself further,” Breschi said. “Once the medical staff clears them, they’ll play. If they’re healthy and 100 percent ready to go, we’re going to play them. If the staff says they should get another week, then we’ll definitely hold off.”