CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The eighth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels begin their 2016 season against the Michigan Wolverines at Fetzer Field on Saturday.
The Tar Heels are the lone Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team to take to the field on the day.
With the graduation of 11 seniors, this year’s North Carolina squad highlights a talented, yet young group of players who will compete against conference foes who were all ranked in the preseason higher in both national and conference polls.
The Tar Heels finished 13-4 overall last season and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals, and even with the loss of five All-Americans, the Tar Heels’ cupboard isn’t bare by any means.
However, in relation to what top-ranked Notre Dame, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Maryland, No. 5 Syracuse, and No. 7 Virginia return, there is work to be done.
Head coach Joe Breschi will look to preseason ACC selections in attackman Luke Goldstock, midfielder Tate Jozokos, and close D-man Austin Pifani to help carry the load right from the opening draw against the Wolverines, a team they beat 19-5 last season during the two teams’ first-ever meeting.
Goldstock scored a school record 50 goals last year and had 67 points overall and along with Steve Pontrello will lead the attack.
Midfielder Peyton Klawinski, the team’s most improved player last year in finishing with 19 goals, will play along Patrick Kelly (midfield), Michael Tagliaferri (midfield) and Shane Simpson (midfield) who are all expected to also help drive the Tar Heels offense.
Stephen Kelly will be the go-to man at faceoff-X, coming off a season during which he won 214 of 425 face-offs in 2015 and led the Tar Heels in ground balls with 102.
Jozokos and Jake Matthai, one of the teams four captains, lead an experienced short-stick defensive midfield unit.
Pifani, along with experienced long poles Zach Powers and Evan Connell will front goalkeeper Brian Balkam, who holds seven starts to his credit, and will be the likely starter to open the season against Michigan.
It won’t be a game that the Tar Heels will take lightly, particularly while working to begin to develop their game day routine and chemistry from the opening faceoff.
“We’ll start off with a vastly improved Michigan team which has gotten much better,” Breschi said.
“We’ll have a lot of new faces in different places and we’ll have to gain that experience by playing the game.”