The team that was on top of the men's lacrosse world two years ago, and atop the ACC just last year, has its back against the wall.
After a 6-0 start to the season, the North Carolina men's lacrosse team entered Saturday's match with Virginia coming off five consecutive defeats, four away from home. But in a cold and rainy game at Kenan Stadium, the Tar Heels (6-6) lost for the sixth straight time as the No. 13 Cavaliers (9-3) pushed UNC's season to the brink with just two games to go, tournament bids hanging in the balance.
There’s only so much for a coach to analyze after a sixth consecutive loss, and head coach Joe Breschi didn’t have much to say about the X’s and O’s of yet another defeat.
“They have really good players that made enough plays," said Breschi, the 2016 coach of the year, "and we didn’t."
UNC opened the scoring with the first career goal from defenseman Cam Macri off an assist by Chris Cloutier, the Tar Heels' star in that 2016 NCAA Tournament run. It was the first of two assists for Cloutier, whose school-record 31-game goal streak came to an end on Saturday.
But it began to unravel for Carolina in the second quarter, when, after the Tar Heels tied the game at three, the Cavaliers scored six of the next seven goals and looked absolutely dominant. It was emblematic of UNC's season, one that's slipping away with every loss.
“I think the defense had some breakdowns,” Breschi said.
The North Carolina coach replaced junior starting goalkeeper Alex Bassil with sophomore Jack Pezzulla at halftime. Bassil would eventually re-enter the game in the fourth quarter, after the Tar Heels had scored five goals in the third quarter. But Virginia was able to keep them at arm’s length for the rest of the game.
Junior Timmy Kelly, who scored a goal in the third quarter on one of Carolina’s several futile comeback attempts, was at a loss for any concrete diagnosis of his team’s struggles.
“We need to get a whole lot tougher," he said. "I think we are very, very soft.”
It's a strong condemnation of a team just two years removed from a national championship. But the losses keep piling, and with games at Syracuse and against Notre Dame to end the regular season, Carolina is hoping to find anything positive at this point in the year.
“We kept fighting, I guess," Kelly said. "When you lose six in a row, there’s a lot more negative than positive.”