The seventh-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels opened up the 2013 lacrosse season with an overpowering 16-8 decision over the Air Force Falcons in front of 1,714 in attendance at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Friday.
Tar Heels captain Marcus Holman tallied eight points (2g, 6a) and helped fellow attackmen Jimmy Bitter (5 g, 1a) and Joey Sankey (3g, 1a) to power the North Carolina scoring machine while freshman goalkeeper Kieran Burke made 11 saves to earn his first win of the season and his career.
Air Force was led by Tommy McKee (3 g), Erik Smith (2g) and Mike Crampton (2g) who kept the Falcons close throughout the first half of play before North Carolina’s powerful offense turned it up a notch for the remainder of the game.
“Really proud of the effort tonight,” Tar Heels head coach Joe Breschi said afterwards.
“Obviously the first game on Fetzer, first game of the season, a lot of young guys starting- I think after a slow start – we settled in and played our game in the second half.”
Busy at both ends of the field
Throughout the first half, both teams sized up one another’s defense and traded goals and leads three times.
As North Carolina relied on its powerful attack unit to generate its offense, the Falcons keyed on their midfielders to keep pace, particularly in transition and kept Burke and the Tar Heels defense busy.
“We knew we were going to go up against a very talented bunch of attackmen,” Air Force head coach Eric Seremet said.
“The game’s a tale of two halves. We made some plays early in the game, but unfortunately we made some mistakes in the second half and allowed them to pull away.”
Slow start, better finish
The Tar Heels held a narrow 8-6 lead heading to the locker room at halftime.
“First half, we hadn’t played that poorly in a while,” Breshci said.
“I think it was nerves, more so than anything. Just overanxious to slide and help each other. The communication was there. All those little things were there, but I think we were overzealous and we were giving them opportunities as opposed to playing our style.”
Showing confidence in Burke to settle down was Breschi’s way of allowing his defense to settle in while the offense took care of business at the other end of the field during the second half.
“Second half, you saw some more intensity, but relaxed as well. That’s when we’re at our best,” Breschi continued.
Creigthton takes a lead
Heading into the season, Breschi had slated midfielder Ryan Creighton to take up more of a leadership role for the Tar Heels in the back end, and he did just that and more against Air Force.
After scoring the team’s first goal of the season, the midfielder provided some inspiration to focus the team’s defensive play during the second half.
“I said a little bit to the team, I challenged them a little bit to hold them to two in the second half,” Creighton said.
“The team did a great job in the second half and holding them to two. It all really comes down to communication and trusting each other.”
Creighton also added two more goals of his own during the second half, finishing the game with an efficient three goals scored on three shots taken.
“He’s a good sound leader and we needed some of that - we needed a voice in the defensive end,” Breschi said.
Patience and paying attention to details
Breshci challenged his team this season to tighten up its defensive play, knowing that it can’t rely on its powerful offense to always win games.
Close defenseman Kieran McDonald pointed out the team’s defensive focus heading into the game.
“One of the things we’re focusing on is four quarters of play,” McDonald said.
“We came out with some first half jitters. We had some new starters on the defense, so we just need to get past that and next game we’ll be ready to go.”
Possessing the top-ranked incoming recruiting class in the country, Breschi was not reluctant to put some of them into action for the team’s home-opener.
Aside from Burke, other notable freshman performances included midfielders Jake Matthai and Steve Pontrello scoring their first collegiate goals to reinforce the win for the Tar Heels.
Coupled with a six-assist performance from Holman, the first time that has happened for the Tar Heels since 1997, the addition of this talented corps of young players to blend with the team’s established veterans will continue to help this team evolve throughout the season.