NCAA Preview: No. 3 North Carolina
by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine
The February issue of Lacrosse Magazine features an extensive NCAA lacrosse preview, from Division I through Division III, plus in-depth features on the top-ranked Syracuse men and the snake-bitten Cal women. Lacrosse Magazine Online (laxmagazine.com) examines the key players, strengths, weaknesses, best- and worst-case scenarios, sleepers, what's new, what's not and rival coaches' takes on each of the top 10-ranked teams in Division I men's and women's lacrosse.
NO. 3 NORTH CAROLINA
"If [Billy] Bitter can stay healthy, they have a great shot at the final four," a rival coach says of the Tar Heels.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Head Coach: Joe Breschi
2010 Records: 13-3, 2-1
2011 Opener: Defeated Robert Morris, 14-11 | Schedule
A Billy Bitter (Sr.)
Hampered by a sports hernia injury, Bitter scored 22 goals, down from 46 in 2009. "I know he is looking forward to this year, and we all are from a standpoint of having the old Billy back, the sophomore year Billy," Breschi said.
M Jimmy Dunster (Jr.)
After a 17-goal, 13-assist season, Dunster will be a midfield mainstay. "We talked about how we wanted him to be a Max Seibald type," Breschi said. "He's one of those grinders, and he'll play anywhere."
D Ryan Flanagan (Sr.)
Flanagan spent the fall in Uganda and later had an internship in San Francisco. He'll be back in Chapel Hill in the spring. "I think he's come a long way in becoming one of the best, and I truly think he can separate this year," Breschi said.
D Charlie McComas (Jr.)
Thanks to Flanagan's globetrotting, McComas was the Tar Heels' most experienced defender in the fall. He and Flanagan will be a potent combination on close defense.
• The Tar Heels are much deeper than they were in
Breschi's first two years
• With Flanagan and McComas, Carolina should have two of the nation's top defensemen
• It's possible no one — not even Breschi —
knows who will emerge at long stick midfielder
• Goalie Chris Madalon's struggles late last season mean there will be curiosity about who starts in the cage.
The freshmen are as good as advertised and Bitter is back to his 2009 form. That might be enough to send the Tar Heels to their first national title win since 1991.
Raw talent only takes the Tar Heels so far, and the newcomers' development is just limited enough to leave North Carolina with its fifth quarterfinal loss in the last eight years.
M Ryan Creighton (Fr.)
Not the most heralded of the Tar Heels' freshmen, but certainly one of the most valuable. He ran on the first midfield for much of the fall. "We don't know where, but he's certainly going to be a major contributor," Breschi said.
RIVAL COACH'S TAKE
"Their recruiting has been dynamite the last couple years. It's only a matter of time."
"If Bitter can stay healthy, they have a great shot at the final four."
A loaded freshman class figures to make a difference almost immediately for the Tar Heels, who aren't that far away from a breakthrough.
Bitter will still be the face of the offense, even if he was never himself after getting hurt early in the season and struggling the rest of the way.
Victories for North Carolina in Joe Breschi's first two seasons. Only Duke (31), Virginia (31), Syracuse (29) and Cornell (25) have at least as many in Division I in that span.