Prior to Saturday, No. 10 North Carolina had yet to string together two consecutive wins in 2013 and was just one game above .500 heading into a pivotal road contest against top-ranked and Atlantic Coast Conference foe Maryland.
But that didn’t prevent the Tar Heels from pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season as they tagged the Terps with their first loss of the year in a 10-8 victory at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Maryland (6-1) may have been the team with all of the accolades and the momentum, but it also had all of the pressure, according to North Carolina senior attackman Marcus Holman.
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“We just came in here, and we didn’t have any pressure,” said the Baltimore native and Gilman graduate, who registered two goals and one assist in the win. “They had all the pressure on their shoulders, and we were able to play loose and fast, and we’re going to continue to play that way the rest of the year.”
The Tar Heels (5-3) had endured an uneven campaign, following every victory with a loss. But coach Joe Breschi said he didn’t sense any panic among the players.
“At the end of the day, you can look at it two ways,” he said. “You can say there’s desperation or you can say the pressure’s off. We focused on the pressure being on Maryland and there wasn’t pressure on us. We were 4-3. We know we’re close, but we weren’t there yet. So that’s the approach we took.”
The fast, carefree style that the Terps had played with through the first six games quickly dissipated Saturday as North Carolina scored six unanswered goals over the first three quarters. Offensive possessions ended with quick shots that freshman goalkeeper Kieran Burke snapped up or uncharacteristic turnovers that the Tar Heels turned into offense.
Maryland coach John Tillman didn’t disagree with the notion that the players began to play tighter as the deficit became deeper.
“We tried to keep them loose,” he said. “Every time we’re in a huddle, we always ask them the same question whether we’re winning or losing. ‘What’s the score?’ And they always say, ‘0-0.’ We’re like, ‘Don’t play the scoreboard. Just make the next play,’ because you can’t get it all back at once. Sometimes when it’s not going the way that you want, you get away from what you’ve been taught and what we emphasized because you want to get it back to tie or go ahead, and it doesn’t work that way. You’ve just got to make one simple play after another, make good decisions, keep picking up ground balls, just keep getting those clears, and hopefully, you win a few faceoffs.”
The victory could be a turning point for North Carolina, which has upcoming contests against No. 14 Brown (4-1) on Wednesday, No. 12 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on Saturday, No. 13 Virginia (5-4) on April 6 and No. 4 Hofstra (5-3) on April 13. Breschi said the outcome was a positive step for the team.
“It’s huge for this team,” he said. “We purposefully put in a really tough schedule to start the year so that we would be prepared for some of these type [of] games. I’m just proud of our guys for their effort and sticking with it. You’re 4-3 and you’ve lost two one-goal games and you’ve won two one-goal games in shootouts. It just comes down to these guys digging deep and continuing to play and continuing to do what our coaching staff asks.”