Chapel Hill, NC—Fresh off an ACC title and and a #1 ranking in the coach’s poll, the Tarheels felt ready to reach that elusive NCAA title, something that they haven’t won since 1991. However, the Tarheels couldn’t stop Eric Law and the Denver Pioneers as their season fizzled out to a heartbreaking end in the second round of the NCAA tournamemt. It was a long ride home from Indianapolis to Chapel Hill, and it gave head coach Joe Breschi a lot to think about. After seeing cross-town rival Duke University go to four championships games since 2005 (winning in ’10 and ’13), fans in Chapel Hill are starting to grow restless. This team did end the regular season with nine-straight wins, and with some improvements, the Tar Heels could be ready to begin their own reign of dominance in the NCAA. Here are some of the keys to the Tarheels’ 2014 season.
Keys to a Successful 2014 Campaign
Replacing Marcus Holman: The Tarheels had the fourth highest scoring offense in the NCAA and ended their season scoring 70 goals in their final four games (17.5gpg) before losing to Denver. However, putting up these kind of numbers will be hard, as Marcus Holman (37g, 43a) graduated and is now playing for the Ohio Machine of the MLL. Holman ranked-fourth in the NCAA in points (4.71), however, the Tarheels have an extremely talented trio of juniors in Joey Sankey (36g, 20a), Jimmy Bitter (32g, 20a), and Chad Tutton (28g, 7a) who should be able to take over Holman’s workload. Tutton was selected to play for the Canadian national team, and has gotten a ton of extra practice against top-notch competition over the offseason. If Tutton can learn to spread the ball out to his teammates, don’t be surprised if he leads the Tarheels in points this spring.
HIt the Ground Running: Although the ‘Heels finished the regular season ranked #1 in the coaches poll, they started off the season 3-3, losing 10-9 to a UMass team that would finish out the season 7-8, and beating Farfield (8-7) by the skin of their teeth. Of course, the Tarheels would go on to win 10 straight upsetting Princeton in a 16-15 thriller at Fetzer Field. You don’t want to be in the position where
you are having “must-win” games to begin the season, though, and the Heels will want to start off on the right foot. Their opening games aren’t too intimidating (Furman, Manhattan, and Dartmouth), so it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Poise Beween the Pipes: Last year, starting goalie Kieran Burke saved 54.5% of shots on goal, and that’s not going to cut it for a team with national championship ambitions. I’ll cut Burke some slack, though, he was a freshman starting for one of the best teams in the nation. When I think of someone with a case similar to his, I think of former Syracuse keeper, John Galloway. Galloway had a mediocre freshman season, but then had a HUGE jump in production during his sophomore year and lead the Orangemen to two national championships. He was a critical leader, and I’m sure Coach Breschi is hoping to see the same from Burke in years to come.
The Tarheel offense was outstanding last year, and that got them through the regular season and ACC tournament, but they will have to be sound on BOTH sides of the field if they plan on advancing in the NCAA tournament.
The Tarheels have a competitive preseason schedule against Ohio State (10/12), Denver (1/25), and Loyala (2/1), and it should be interesting to see how Tutton and Burke have progressed since last season. If you’re in the Chapel Hill area, the rematch against Denver could be the unfriendliest “friendly” match in the NCAA.