2007 North Carolina Men's Lacrosse Season Preview
 
 

Feb. 5, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - For the University of North Carolina men's lacrosse program next year literally is now. In fact, the Tar Heels took on that mentality just minutes after last year's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinal loss to Maryland which capped a disillusioning 4-10 season and dropped the Heels to 9-18 over the past two seasons.

But what happened last year is hardly relevant to what might happen this year. If the Tar Heels buy into that approach the level of confidence these players need will not be attained. Unlike diehard fans of the Chicago Cubs, "Wait Til Next Year," is not an operative phrase for Coach John Haus' seventh Tar Heel team. The Tar Heels are preseason ranked No. 21 by Face-off Yearbook and Inside Lacrosse, a rating which in all honesty is a rather high mark for a team which was six games under .500 in 2006. Only two other schools who were under .500 last year made their way into the Top 25 of the poll and both were 6-7 a year ago.

The conventional wisdom is that stats lie but that is not always the case. The Tar Heels are hardly talentless. They are not poorly coached. Over the past two years they might have been unlucky. They did struggle with confidence. Carolina struggled to win close games and its record reflected that.

One thing is for sure. The Tar Heels challenged themselves with brutal schedules. Lax Power ranked Carolina's 2005 schedule as the nation's toughest and it rated the 2006 docket as the fourth most difficult in the country. And Carolina's RPI in both seasons was more than respectable. In 2005 Carolina had an RPI of No. 7 out of 57 NCAA Division I teams and the 2006 team had an RPI of No. 14.

Given the strength of schedule rating and the RPI rankings Carolina would easily have been in the NCAA Tournament both of those years had the Tar Heels merely achieved a .500 ledger. To illustrate the difficulty of the schedule Carolina played in 2006, a total of 10 of the 14 games were played against teams which made the NCAA Tournament field.

 

 

In 2007 the Tar Heels return a wealth of talent from those two squads. With a revamped coaching staff which has added assistant Judd Lattimore and a boost in confidence this Carolina team could be a lot better than a predicted ranking of No. 21.

The Tar Heels took their first steps in turning things around last June when they spent eight days in Japan competing in the 2006 International Friendship Lacrosse Games in Tokyo, Japan. Not only did the Heels go 6-1-1 there but they also bonded as a unit and clearly enjoyed playing the game of lacrosse.

In August, an outstanding freshman class arrived in Chapel Hill, a group which Inside Lacrosse has ranked as the fourth best recruiting class in the nation. Fall ball followed and North Carolina performed well, competing hard in the annual Leukemia Tournament in Baltimore, scoring exhibition wins over Penn State and Towson, the kinds of teams UNC will need to beat this spring to get back into the tournament.

When spring practice began in January in preparation for a season opener against Ohio State on February 17, the Tar Heels faced some major injury problems that will be resolved in some way as the season develops. But more than anything else the 42 players returned to the practice field with an attitude and a work ethic that has the chance to result in successful outcomes in `07.

The Tar Heels will again play a challenging docket but a difference in 2007 will be that eight of the 13 regular-season games will be played in the friendly confines of Fetzer Field. Haus designed a schedule specifically to keep the Heels at home more often in 2007 after the team played a total of only 10 games at home in 2005 and 2006 combined.

THE ATTACK

The attack unit will be young in 2007 with the loss of three of the top scorers from 2006 as seniors Ryan Blair, Sean Link and Drew Habeck all saw considerable minutes last year.

The Tar Heels, however, will be a revamped unit served well by its youth and its potential. Heading into the spring season the top four players in the rotation are likely to be sophomores Bart Wagner (Glen Arm, Md.), Michael Burns (Garden City, N.Y.) and Matthias McCall (Manteo, N.C.) along with freshman Gavin Petracca (Manhasset, N.Y.). Wagner was UNC's top scorer as a freshman in 2006 with 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points. He was named Carolina's top freshman player in `06. Burns was UNC's third leading scorer as a freshman last season with 14 goals and six assists for 20 points. McCall may be the most improved player on the team over the course of the last year and was chosen practice player of the week shortly after practice began in January. Petracca was a likely starter last year before preseason knee surgery led him to be redshirted. He is now back and ready to contribute.

Significant depth at the position will be provided by senior captain Ben Mark (Durham, N.C.), freshman Kevin Federico (West Islip, N.Y.), the son of Tom Federico, captain of Carolina's 1981 NCAA championship team, freshman Sean Delaney (Moorestown, N.J.) and senior Sam Wagner (Annapolis, Md.).

Four freshmen, including three from the state of North Carolina, round out the depth chart at the attack position. This cadre includes Tommy D'Alessandro (Charlotte, N.C.), Ian Morrison (Carmel, Calif.), Joe Howard (Chapel Hill, N.C.) and Colin Sherwood (Greensboro, N.C.).

THE GOAL

The coaching staff believes the Tar Heels have the potential to be outstanding in the goal in 2007 and nothing the coaches have seen in preseason practice disputes that assertion.

Sophomore Grant Zimmerman (Cockeysville, Md.) is the most experienced player at the position, having started eight games for the Heels in 2006. Zimmerman's play in Japan last June was brilliant and gave him a lot of confidence returning for his second campaign as a Tar Heel.

Zimmerman will not win the job by default, however, as freshman Chris Madalon (Darien, Conn.) staked his claim to a shot at the starting role in the fall and his play in the spring continues to be solid.

Third in the rotation will be sophomore Andrew Moss (Washington, D.C.), who showed significant improvement in Japan and will be a more than able backup to the other two.

THE DEFENSE

The Tar Heel defense will be an interesting mix of experience and youth. Carolina returns two starters at close defense but it must rebuild its entire rope unit from a year ago.

Junior Tim Kaiser (Timonium, Md.) is a two-year returning starter at close defense and junior Brian Burke (Fort Salonga, N.Y.) started nine games last year after playing both rope and close defense as a freshman.

Three-time All-America selection Stephen McElduff was lost to graduation but three players are in strong contention to take his place in the starting unit at the other close defense spot. The group includes sophomore Chris Cortina (Pennington, N.J.), who is the most experienced of the three candidates, sophomore Jack Ryan (Darien, Conn.) and freshman Sean Jackson (Fairfax, Va.).

Depth at close defense will be provided by sophomore Andrew Pyke (Baltimore, Md.), a transfer from Franklin & Marshall, junior Tim McCall (Manteo, N.C.) and freshman Hunter Meldman (San Francisco, Calif.).

ROPE

Carolina lost all of its experience at the long-stick midfielder position. That experience level was not inconsiderable. Billy Staines and Hayward Howard were the four-year co-starters at the position and played nearly every minute on the field there the last four years.

Two freshmen -- Kerry McCormick (Garden City, N.C.) and Michael Jarvis (Richmond, Va.) -- have established themselves as the likely candidates to take over the rope roles. Haus also has high praise for sophomore Pell George (Baltimore, Md.). The coaching staff says George has improved as much as any player on the team since last year.

OFFENSIVE MIDFIELD

This area is likely to be the strength of the team as the coaching staff believes the Tar Heels boast nine players who can comprise three dynamic units. This group should significantly boost UNC's per game scoring average of 8.5 goals from a year ago.

The top unit could include junior Nick Tintle (Levittown, N.Y.), who was named preseason All-ACC by Inside Lacrosse as well as a preseason honorable mention All-America, along with sophomore Ben Hunt (Arnold, Md.), a 2006 All-ACC Tournament honoree, and freshman Sean Burke (Fort Salonga, N.Y.). Tintle was UNC's fourth-leading scorer in 2006 with 12 goals and five assists. Hunt had seven goals and two assists after being shifted to the midfield from the attack midway through the season.

Six more midfielders, all with significant experience at Carolina, will form the core of two more deep and talented offensive midfield units. Senior captain David Ryan (Darien, Conn.) leads this group which also includes senior Tom Sciolla (Moorestown, N.J.), junior Brian Connors (Manhasset, N.Y.), junior Rob Driscoll (Massapequa, N.Y.), junior Ryan Walterhoefer (Ellicott City, Md.) and sophomore Bobby McAuley (Hicksville, N.Y.). McAuley had five goals and seven assists last season while both Driscoll and Walterhoefer scored six goals.

Further depth at the position will come from junior Jamie DeBole (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and freshman Blair Koontz (Montclair, N.J.).

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD

Another strength of the team should be at the short stick midfield position where the Tar Heels welcome one of the nation's best freshmen and return three outstanding upperclass players.

Freshman Mike Burns (Medford Lakes, N.J.) comes in as one of the nation's most highly sought recruits. Senior Ben Staines (Gambrills, Md.) had a breakthrough season in terms of the increase in his playing time in 2006 and he is expected to have his best season as a Tar Heel in his senior campaign.

Carolina's two other short stick defensive midfield specialists are arguably the team's two best leaders -- junior captains Mike Munnelly (Garden City, N.Y.) and Fletcher Gregory (Charlotte, N.C.). Both headed into the spring practice season battling some injury issues but the Tar Heels are hoping they can be ready to go by the start of the season.

FACE-OFFS

Carolina returns one of the nation's top face-off specialists in the person of sophomore Shane Walterhoefer (Ellicott City, Md.), who was named preseason All-ACC by Inside Lacrosse Magazine. Walterhoefer won 114 of 209 face-offs as a freshman for a percentage of 54.5 percent and he also led the Tar Heels in ground balls with 64.

Two freshmen -- Mike Burns and Sean Burke -- are also expected to see experience in the face-off circle. Sophomore close defenseman Chris Cortina is also an able face-off option the Tar Heels can turn to in man-down situations.


 
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Junior middie Nick Tintle is a preseason All-ACC selection.
 
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