NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
2015 Season: 13-4
All-Time Record vs. SU: 7-13
2015 vs. SU: W 17-15, L 8-9 (ACCT)
First Meeting vs. SU: 5/20/1981 W 13-6
Streak vs. SU: L1
2016 Games to Watch:
- 2/28 at Johns Hopkins Blue Jays: Hopkins will most likely be the team to beat in the Big 10, so a win could help solidify a UNC spot in the NCAAT if UNC is the fifth team in the ACC.
- 3/5 vs. Denver Pioneers: The Pios will be making that cross country trip to Chapel Hill, and may be vulnerable. I don't expect a UNC win but they could make it interesting.
- 3/26 at Maryland Terrapins: This will be a tough, midseason test for the Heels. It will be another big opportunity against the B10.
- 4/10 vs. Virginia Cavaliers: A win will go a long way in making the ACCT.
- 4/16 at Syracuse Orange: Back-to-back ACC games is never easy, but the Tar Heels have to come away with at least one win against Virginia and Syracuse.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are coming off of a NCAA Quarterfinals appearance in 2015. For most programs a trip to the quarterfinals would be a good thing, but that is not the case with UNC. The Tar Heels seem to hit a ceiling every year. Following the Heels' 2004 trip to the National Championship game (where it lost to Syracuse 12-13), UNC missed the Tournament twice, lost in the first round four times, and lost in the quarterfinals five times. It was widely believed that UNC would be a title contender in 2015, especially with its stellar attack grouping, but Hopkins stifled the UNC offense in the quarterfinals.
Will this be the year that UNC can break through and make it to Championship Weekend? I have to think the answer is no. The Heels have some big holes, especially on offense. In terms of its schedule, UNC will face several tough out of conference opponents including: Johns Hopkins, Denver, and Maryland. I think this team goes 7-6, and misses the NCAA Tournament. The Heels have already played its first game, a 20-10 stomping over the Michigan Wolverines.
At attack, UNC has some big shoes to fill. Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey are both lost to graduation, a duo that combined for 150 points last season. Sophomore Chris Coultier only saw the field in two games last season but he started at attack against Michigan in North Carolina's first game of the season and picked up five goals on seven shots. He could be an emerging force for this squad. Junior Luke Goldstock (50 G, 17 A) will return however. Goldstock led the Heels in goals with 50 in 2015.
Two returning attackmen who could have an impact are Brian Cannon (2, 0) and Luke Walsh (1,0), each playing three games in 2015. Carolina also has Tim Kelly, the eighth rated incoming attackman, coming onto campus, so it will be interesting to see if he or the #20 incoming attackman, Andy Matthews, see the field.
Stephen Kelly (.504 F/O%, 102 GBs) will once again be the man at the face-off x. The junior will look to improve on his .504 winning percentage in 2015. Steve Pontrello (11G, 4A) will most likely play at midfield, although there is a chance we could see him at attack. Steve's older brother Nikko Pontrello was a standout player for the Loyola Greyhounds when that team won the National Championship in 2012. The younger Pontrello has a heck of an outside cannon and is good at finding space to shoot in tight spots.
Junior Peyton Klawinski (19, 3) is one of the rare players to come out of the state of Tennessee. He picked up 22 points last year and I would expect him to be on the first midfield line. Fellow junior Shane Simpson (5, 2) is a Canadian product and had an incredible freshman season in 2014 with 17 points but stepped back last year with just seven even though he had six starts. Simpson is a very fast player and excels at dodging.
The defense will be without Jake Bailey and Ryan Kilpatrick, but will return preseason first team All-American Austin Pifani (41 GBs, 19 CTs). Syracuse fans may remember Pifani from the 2015 regular season matchup when he intentionally stepped on Hakeem Lecky after Lecky scored in the third quarter. Nevertheless Pifani is a shutdown defenseman. Senior Zach Powers (24, 13) is player who could be slotted at close defense or long stick midfield. Powers had 24 groundballs and 13 caused turnovers last year. Carolina does have the second rated incoming class, which includes the fourth rated incoming defenseman in Jack Rowlett from Robinson, VA. We may see Rowlett get some game time this year.
UNC is currently without Kieran Burke (11.58 GAA, .516 SV%), who started 10 games in net and finished 2015 with an 11.58 goals against average and a .516 save percentage. While he is still enrolled in the University, he has taken a leave of absence from lacrosse and it is not clear if he will return to the team. The Tar Heels will return Brian Balkam (7.61, .556). The St. James, NY native started seven games last year, splitting time with Burke in five of those games. He had a 7.61 GAA and a .556 save percentage last season. There will be no goalie controversy this year, as it will completely Balkam's role.