2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 17 North Carolina (Men)


Lance Tillman had 21 goals and nine assists last season.

The 2023 college lacrosse season is almost here. 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.


2022 Record: 8-6 (1-5 ACC)
Final Ranking (2022): No. 19
Coach: Joe Breschi


Collin Krieg, G, Jr.

An All-American goalie with final four experience is a great place to start. Krieg wasn’t quite as good statistically (12.86 GAA, 50.3 SV%) as he was when he backstopped UNC to championship weekend as a freshman, but then again, he no longer had Will Bowen and Cam Macri holding down the fort in front of him. He played every minute in goal last year and should benefit from a more experienced unit this spring. Paul Barton (6-4, 210) and Max Cooney (6-5, 225), if healthy, can cover a lot of ground.

Connor Maher, SSDM, Gr

“I love our defensive middies,” Breschi said. “It’s one of the strengths of our team for sure, between the lines. It’s a really upbeat, excitable group to be around.” A two-time second-team All-American, Maher leads the pack. His 43 ground balls trailed only faceoff specialist Zac Tucci, and he routinely neutralized opposing middies. UNC could run as many as six defensive midfielders this season.

Matt Wright, LSM, Sr.

Wright and Barton both missed the fall due to injuries. When healthy, Wright is as good as it gets between the stripes. He’s good for at least two caused turnovers per game and he’s dangerous in transition, where his Canadian box lacrosse instincts take over. With its cadre of short sticks, menacing long poles like Wright and Marist transfer JT Roselle and a potential breakout candidate in Ty English, Breschi thinks UNC can get back to 10-man riding more frequently.


James Matan, A, Fr.

Dom Pietramala was the more heralded recruit, but with little Petro redshirting this year due to a lower body injury that required surgery, Matan has emerged as the jewel of the freshman class. He will push for playing time on a deep attack that includes returners Lance Tillman and Dewey Egan and transfers Logan McGovern and Sean Goldsmith. With five starting-caliber attackmen on the roster and a still unproven midfield, Matan at 6-foot-3 could be an intriguing option running out of the box.

Logan McGovern, A, Gr. (Bryant)

A survivor of cystic fibrosis and a rough bout with COVID-19, McGovern comes to UNC with nothing to prove and everything to gain. He set Bryant’s Division I single-season record with 35 assists as a senior last year. The Tar Heels started Tillman, Egan and McGovern on attack in their lone fall scrimmage against Harvard. They combined for 17 points, including a three-goal, two-assist performance by McGovern.

Harry Wellford, M, Gr. (Bucknell)

The one-time Virginia commit had a stellar career at Bucknell, demanding slides the way no other North Carolina midfielder could last year. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Wellford is a physical dodger who routinely beats short sticks and can also go to the rack against most poles. He had 30 points, including 10 assists, as a senior midfielder for the Bison.


Graduations: Chris Gray, A; Zac Tucci, FO
Transfers: Jacob Kelly, A; Nicky Solomon, A


UNC is the latest team to jump on the grad transfer trend.

North Carolina added six graduate transfers to its roster, which ballooned to 60 with the addition of 15 freshmen. That’s a lot of voices in one locker room, especially considering Sean Goldsmith (Mercer), Logan McGovern (Bryant) and Harry Wellford (Bucknell) were captains for their previous teams.

“It’s been seamless,” coach Joe Breschi said. “Does it have added competition on a daily basis? A hundred percent. But there’s mutual respect there.”

With so many players from the canceled 2020 season exercising their extra eligibility, the Tar Heels until now have mostly passed on grad transfers.

“Going back to the final four, I’m in it two years ago and at it last year watching Maryland and Rutgers walk by. They look like men,” Breschi said. “We have some talented guys, but some haven’t started shaving yet. I’m going to go after it and get the right people for us.”

McGovern and Goldsmith are expected to help offset the loss of NCAA all-time leading scorer Chris Gray on an attack unit led by Lance Tillman. Wellford comes from a team that likes to 10-man ride like North Carolina. Andrew Geppert (Brown) will start on defense and reigning MAAC LSM of the Year JT Roselle (Marist) only adds to the Tar Heels’ greatest strength — their rope unit.

Can the Tar Heels get a handle on turnovers?

North Carolina was prone to untimely and sometimes unforced blunders last spring. It didn’t look much better against Harvard in the fall when the Heels scored 20 goals but committed 24 turnovers. (Both teams were using 10-man rides.) Breschi said the Tar Heels have focused on improving their stickhandling in the middle of the field and getting on the plus side of the turnover differential. They also won’t be as focused on force-feeding Chris Gray.

No Gray? That’s OK.

We’ve somehow made it this far down without mentioning (in depth) that North Carolina graduated the most prolific scorer in NCAA history. “We’re deeper than we’ve been in a while. That’s a good thing,” Breschi said. “There’s not going to be a focal point in the offense like Chris Gray, but more of six guys in unison playing together. I love it.”

In addition to Gray’s departure, Jacob Kelly and Nicky Solomon transferred to Georgetown, leaving the Tar Heels with a blank slate on attack. Compensating for lost production will be a unit-wide burden.

“Teams short-sticking our attackmen is something that can’t happen,” Breschi said. “Once that happens, you become one-dimensional at the midfield. Sometimes you roll into big-little and become one-dimensional offensively. I do think we have guys who can break down short sticks. That’s what I’m excited about.”


“The question in my head: What was wrong in the soup last year. They would have seven or eight unforced turnovers a game last year. It’s college athletics, mistakes happen. If there’s two or three where you throw the ball away? OK. You try to get less than one a quarter. They’d give you one or two a quarter. You kind of wonder where that comes from. I know they’re going to attend to that and work on their stick skills. You wonder if it was too focused? Was it all about getting the ball to Chris Gray? I know most of our defensive plan was geared around stopping Chris Gray or preventing Chris Gray getting a short stick switched onto him, whether it was an on-ball or off-ball pick exchange. Your defensive game plan was focused around covering and preventing Chris Gray from getting his hands free or being covered by a short stick. I kind of wonder, does that liberate them? There’s a lot of talent there. You’re looking at it going, ‘You kind of wonder in terms of the pieces of the puzzle, why would they be better?’ You start asking about cultural things, the stick work and not making it all about one guy.”



It may take a while for fans and announcers to get the hang of watching UNC this year. With the departures of several seniors and a few transfers here and there, the Heels are returning just 37% of their production from last season (as measured by EGA). Obviously, Chris Gray accounted for a lot of that. His 63.9 total EGA put him 15th in all of Division I last year.

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