After winning the Division I national lacrosse championship last May, North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi had a great offseason. He spent a lot of time with his family and vacationed in Cape Cod, Mass., and Stone Harbor, N.J.

The fall was just as rewarding as his championship players came back for banquets, and they were honored at halftime of a Tar Heels football game. And then came last week.


No. 3 Johns Hopkins (4-0) came to Chapel Hill and routed No. 6 North Carolina, 13-5. The Tar Heels were previously undefeated after having beaten up on three cupcakes — UMBC, Lehigh and Furman.

It was a wakeup call.

"We had a bad day but I give 100 percent credit to Hopkins," said Breschi. "They are playing at a very high level right now in February and March. Their defense was solid, their goalie was great, their motion offense gave us problems and they played a lot of people. It's like they were weeks ahead of us."

"Our message this week is to focus on discipline, stick to the game plan and embrace the challenge," said Breschi, a graduate of Loyola Blakefield, whose team travels to No. 1 Denver on Saturday. "We don't want to put ourselves in the same position as last year where every game during the last month was a playoff game. For us, that type of pressure is over."

It's a different type of pressure this season, one Breschi and the Tar Heels find more acceptable. Before last season, North Carolina had not won a national championship in 25 years. The Tar Heels started the season at 3-3 and finished the regular season at 8-6.

But they got hot in the postseason with wins against Marquette, Notre Dame and Loyola before edging Maryland, 14-13, in overtime of the championship game. In 2017, teams are chasing North Carolina.

"It was great to celebrate the championship in the fall, and that's when I think it really hit me," said Breschi. "You win the title but in three days everyone is going home for the summer or off to work. But how often do you really get a chance to enjoy and celebrate everything you put into it, the ultimate sacrifices, all of the energy."

"Now with all that said, we talked to the guys about putting it all behind us once we took the field in 2017," said Breschi. "At North Carolina, our goal is always to win a national championship but it took us 23 years to get in position, and 25 years to get it done on the field. As far as we're concerned the pressure is off, so let's just go out and embrace this new one."

Breschi has talked to several other head coaches about trying to repeat, including Denver's Bill Tierney, and his North Carolina assistant Dave Metzbower, who was with Tierney when Princeton won three in a row in 1996, '97 and '98.

North Carolina has to replace top stars from a year ago in attackman Steve Pontrello, midfielder Patrick Kelly, shortstick midfielder Jake Matthai and longstick midfielder Evan Connell.

Breschi thinks the Tar Heels will be fine defensively and on special teams because they have close defenseman Austin Pifani and midfielder/faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly. North Carolina's season will come down to finding ways to manufacture goals from attackmen Luke Goldstock and Chris Cloutier.

The Tar Heels had 39 in the first three games, but struggled against Hopkins.

"We have to develop an identity on the offensive end and that's a work in progress," said Breschi. "We went over the game film from last year, reviewed everything we did from the beginning to the end. The one thing we don't want to do is put ourselves in position like last season. It's good that we can draw off that experience of being the only unseeded team or the only team to have only won eight games, and still won the title."

"I'm a Ravens and Orioles fan and still remember when the Ravens were the first No. 6 seed to win it all," he said. "I'm comfortable with being that team because it gives other teams confidence and faith that they can win it all, but there is a different challenge this year."

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