Fuel for the Fire: Chris Gray Motivated After Falling Short of Title in 2021


As the most coveted transfer available in the summer of 2019 stepped into North Carolina’s facility, Tar Heels coach Joe Breschi couldn’t help but to notice the most basic things about Chris Gray.

The attackman with a buttoned-up look held the door open for his parents and delivered a firm handshake. When Breschi received a report back from players who had dinner with their soon-to-be-teammate, his impression swelled even further.

“I remember getting a text from Will Perry saying, ‘All he said is he’s one of us,’ meaning he has the same family values, the same academic values and the same lacrosse values that we do,” Breschi said. “It was really cool to hear that from your players because that’s the group that’s going to be around him.”

Gray’s decision to transfer to UNC galvanized the Tar Heels, who are 20-3 over the last two seasons. They should further benefit from the fifth-year player, who is USA Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason Player of the Year, capitalizing on the NCAA’s eligibility relief waiver from the canceled 2020 season.

One of two Tewaaraton finalists returning from a year ago (along with Notre Dame’s Pat Kavanagh), Gray was the conductor of an offense that helped senior-laden North Carolina land a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament and reach the semifinals. He managed 49 goals and 42 assists, his 91 points shattering a single-season school record that stood for nearly a half-century.

“I’m so fortunate to have ended up in a place like Chapel Hill,” Gray said. “I’m surrounded by the best teammates and coaches I can find.”

Prior to his arrival, the Tar Heels had plenty of good pieces, but they clearly missed a central figure capable of elevating everyone around him. That might be the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Gray’s greatest asset.

“He’s not a guy who needs the ball,” Breschi said. “He’s a guy that gets the ball when it’s needed, and I think that’s different.”

This season brings a different challenge for Gray. Rather than a first midfield line loaded with fifth-year seniors, Breschi anticipates at least four freshmen among his top nine options at the position. It places an even greater onus on Gray, who spent extensive time juggling his graduate school duties and finding extra opportunities to get lacrosse work in.

However, maxing out has proven to be one of Gray’s specialties. Overlooked by high-profile programs coming out of Shoreham-Wading River High School on Long Island, he piled up 182 points in two years at Boston University before coming to Chapel Hill.

“I know the work I put in,” Gray said. “But at the end of the day, I think I’ve been able to have so much success just because of the guys around me, both at BU and UNC.”

Last year’s trip to Memorial Day weekend ended with a loss to Virginia in the semifinals, but the experience — even amid a pandemic — made the appeal of another run even greater.

There are some possible individual honors out there, including winning the Tewaaraton Award. He also enters the season 79 points behind former Albany star Lyle Thompson’s Division I career record of 400.

Unsurprisingly for a guy who wowed Breschi and his future teammates with his approach when he first visited Chapel Hill, a national title would carry far greater value.

“We came up short,” Gray said. “It’s more fuel for the fire.”

This story appears in the January edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

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