2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 6 North Carolina (Men)

PHOTO BY JEFFREY A. CAMARATI

Nicky Solomon ranked third on UNC with 43 points last season.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 6 NORTH CAROLINA

2021 Record: 13-3 (4-2 ACC)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 3
Coach: Joe Breschi (14th year)

In May 2016, when the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team won its first national championship in 25 years, head coach Joe Breschi stood on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field, holding back tears of joy and wrapping his arms around anyone that crossed his path.

Almost six years later, the reigning ACC Coach of the Year is still trying to recreate that one shining moment.

After going only 23-21 in the three seasons after winning the title and missing the NCAA tournament twice, the Tar Heels rebounded in 2020, jumping out to a 7-0 start and the No. 4 ranking before the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the campaign. Last season, UNC won a share of the ACC title and entered the NCAA tournament as the top-ranked team but narrowly fell to eventual champion Virginia in an national semifinal.

As his team inches closer to sniffing the pinnacle of the sport once again, Breschi said he believes the Tar Heels are steadily moving in the right direction.

“I think last year was a great year,” Breschi said. “In the NCAA tournament, like any sport, anything can happen — a play here or there and the result could be completely different. But the end of the day, I think really focusing on what we can do to get better will be important for us.”

Part of the program’s resurgence over the past two years can be attributed to the team’s potent offensive attack, as the Tar Heels paced the nation with 16.31 goals per game last season.

The primary contributor to the unit has been graduate attacker Chris Gray, who led the ACC with 49 goals last season while finishing second with 42 assists, en route to winning the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.

“If you were to see him at six, seven, eight o’clock at night in the indoor facility just working on his game and working on his shot by himself with a bucket of balls just trying to get better, that’s him in a nutshell,” Breschi said. “He’s such an unselfish player that makes everyone around him better.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

While the team’s attacking unit captured much of the spotlight, the Tar Heels’ defense grew throughout the course of the season. Despite some early inconsistencies, Breschi said the upward trajectory of the back line helped the team stay in games when the offense wasn’t clicking.

“We got better and better, and in the NCAA tournament, we were doing that against some of the best teams in the country,” Breschi said. “Our youth got better at the defensive end and guys started to find their niche and become more confident.”

Although the Tar Heels are balanced across the field, the one area Breschi said he is focusing on is the growth of the midfield unit, which lost five of its top six performers from last season.

To address these departures, he hinted there might be an early reliance on the freshmen class — which ranks No. 1 in the nation — to step in and fill the void.

“Between the lines, guys will have to produce,” Breschi said. “Four of our top nine guys are freshmen, so it’s all a matter of who fits well with who.”

With the season just a few weeks away, the Tar Heels will look to leave their recent shortcomings in the past. Playing in the ACC, which features four of the top six teams in the country, is not only certain to give provide plenty of challenges, but also opportunities for growth.

And potentially, the battle scars for another May celebration.

“It was a good year, but we’re not satisfied with the end result,” Breschi said. “I think that’s something guys have taken personally and will carry that into the spring.”






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TOP RETURNERS

Chris Gray, A, Grad.

Exercising his additional year of eligibility, the ACC’s leading scorer and Offensive Player of the Year will be the engine for a UNC attack that paced the nation in scoring last season. He led the ACC with 49 goals last season while finishing second with 42 assists.

Collin Krieg, G, So.

The last line of the defense, Krieg started all 16 games in net last season and finished with a .530 save percentage. It was something of a surprise to see him play so much as a freshman, but he certainly delivered.

Nicky Solomon, A, Sr.

Ranked third on the team with 43 points last season, is expected to have an even larger role following the departures of former standouts William Perry, Tanner Cook and Justin Anderson.

KEY ADDITION

Antonio DeMarco, M, Fr.

After impressing the coaching staff during fall workouts, DeMarco – the No. 38 player in the class of 2021 – could contribute right away to a retooled midfield unit.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Henry Schertzinger, M, Sr.

Bounced back from injuries early in his career to play in 13 games last season, will provide experience to a young midfield group still searching for its identity.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Tar Heels:

“That will be a team where the scouting will be very different, but we all know Joe Breschi and Dave Metzbower, they’re just recruiting horses. I think their freshman class will be very impactful.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

32.2%

UNC’s offense was otherworldly last year. Their defense, not so much. If you want to diagnose the issues with UNC’s defensive unit, late possession offense seems like a good place to start. Across all of Division I men’s lacrosse, teams shot 26.9 percent in the last 20 seconds of the shot clock. In general, shooting percentage drops with every second that comes off the clock. Against UNC though? Teams shot 32.2 percent in the last 20 seconds of the shot clock. Something to work on for this year. — Zack Capozzi

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