In the time that Joe Breschi left Ohio State to assume the head coaching reins at North Carolina after the 2008 season, the program is 5-for-5 in NCAA tournament appearances and has advanced to the quarterfinal round three times.
But for a school that captured national championships in 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1991, those results have left alumni and fans wanting more. With the Tar Heels generally considered among the top three teams in Division I leading up to the 2014 season, the expectation is that this year’s squad could finally reach the promised land of championship weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend.
So is there pressure on Breschi to guide North Carolina to its first Final Four since 1993?
“To tell you the truth, six years ago, I don’t think anybody was talking about winning championships,” said Breschi, a Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate. “They were talking about winning an ACC game and the fact that now the discussion revolves around taking that next step to winning a national championship is exciting. It shows how far the program has come. I think our guys have done a wonderful job of blocking out the outside and all of the expectations of others and really focusing on us getting better on a daily basis.”
With seven of 10 starters returning from last year’s squad that went 13-4, captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown since 1996, and marched to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, the Tar Heels appear poised to make good on those expectations. But Breschi said the coaches and players don’t concern themselves with that objective.
“I think at the end of the day, kids come to the University of North Carolina to compete for national championship in general,” he said. “I think Coach [Pat] Myers and [Chris] Feifs and [Brian] Holman and myself have done a good job of building this program the way we feel is best. We have a great group of young men who are really working hard. So I think at the end of the day, it’s about getting better and representing the alumni and friends of the program in a great way by competing in each game that we have to the best of our ability.”
Two of those returning players, junior attackman Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter, have sat out the preseason with injuries that Breschi did not discuss. Sophomores Spencer Parks and Steve Pontrello, senior Patrick Foster, and freshman Luke Goldstock have been playing at attack in the fall and preseason, but Breschi said he did not anticipate that Sankey and Bitter would miss the team’s season opener at Furman on Sunday.
“I think it’s just one of those things where when you’re looking at two All Americans, you want to be cautious and get them back 100 percent before they step on the field so that there is no sense of re-injury,” Breschi said. “So it’s just a temporary thing. But I think what it has allowed us to do is give some other guys experience in the scrimmages.”