2016 UNC Men's Lacrosse

Interview with UNC Men’s Head Coach Joe Breschi

The drought is over!

The University of North Carolina Men’s Lacrosse program has finally reclaimed a National Championship title, its first in over two decades. The Tar Heels Head Coach, Joe Breschi, graduated from UNC just a year before their 1991 Championship, but has now led the Heels back to the big stage in 2016 and in dramatic fashion.

UNC Dab

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

In most preseason polls, UNC ranked anywhere from #6 to #8. They were still in the top ten based on their extremely talented roster but stayed out of the top five because of the loss of some of the programs most prolific players in Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter and more. When the Tar Heels started their season 3-3 with losses to two unranked opponents, most even thought a top ten ranking was pushing it. But, through the rough start and the personnel adjustments, Coach Breschi and his staff worked tirelessly with their players to turn things around.

UNC was one of the last teams to get picked for NCAA post-season play, putting them in the proverbial underdog position throughout the entire tournament. No road to the Championship game is easy, but the Tar Heels prevailed above all expectations,knocking off a formidable foe in the Maryland Terrapins, and claiming the title as the first unranked program in NCAA history. It has been a wild ride for the Tar Heels this year but one man and his staff stuck to their guns and made history. We were able to catch up with Head Coach Joe Breschi to discuss the road his team took to winning a national title.

Joe Breschi

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

You just won the National Championship, first in 25 years. Can you describe the impact this title will have on your program?

I think anytime you win a championship it has a positive impact on your program.  You may not know exactly what areas it affects.  That will be known over time.  In the short term it’s a great reward for our student-athletes, athletic program and alumni.

You and your team not only won the National Championship, but did so labeled as the underdog ultimately becoming the only unseeded team in lacrosse history to win the title. How did the underdog mentality affect your players and coaching staff leading up to the final four and the championship game?

I think it allowed us to play loose and at the same time play with confidence.  Sometimes when there is immense pressure on you the sticks get gripped too tight or every mistake seems overwhelming.  This year our kids just played with resolve and were always confident they could overcome short term adversities.  No instance of tough luck seemed too difficult to overcome.

Just a day before your Championship game, the UNC Women’s program won their National Championship then stayed in Philadelphia to watch and cheer on your guys. Can you describe the impact that had on your players and your staff?

It was tremendous and such a generous gesture by Coach Levy and her team.  They sacrificed a charter flight on Sunday to cheer us on Monday and take a bus back.  We will always appreciate the solidarity they showed with us.

2016 UNC Men's and Women's Lacrosse

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

With your players dedicating their hard work and success to you, your family and your late son Michael, it is apparent that you have a strong connection with your team. How have you been able to, as their coach, make such a strong connection with those college athletes?

When you recruit a kid to come to Chapel Hill it’s a two-way bond.  Sure, we want to win but foremost we want them to get a great education and have a great college experience.  That’s why we get into the business as coaches and that goes for everyone who works in college athletics.  And to accomplish those goals while winning a national title, that’s just icing on the cake.

After chasing the goal of making it to Championship weekend and winning a National Championship, has the pressure to succeed subsided or are the expectations even higher now?

We’re just going to enjoy this one for the summer.  We’ll worry about expectations when next school year starts.  But honestly, every college program, has expectations regardless of what you’ve done the previous year.  People probably talk too much about them.  That’s the nature of chatter around the sport.  But within your own program, if you think about them too much, you’ve already lost in a way.  You can only control what you do on your own end.

When you joined the North Carolina coaching staff, there was a noticeable shift in mentality and approach to the game. How would you define your coaching style?

We want to emphasize being really good at all the extremely important things off the field – team building, conditioning, weight training, academics, working in our leadership academy, community service, giving back.  When you do those well the other things have the chance to fall into place.  It’s not a secret we like to play an aggressive, athletic, fast paced style.  But we also want to be able to play with more precision if we’re in a game that slows down.  You’ve got to be able to do both to win.

2016 UNC Men's Lacrosse

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

After graduating some incredibly talented players like Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter who were clear stars for UNC, how did you address the team on day one of practice now with no clear superstars?

It’s simple, we’re all in this together.  Everyone needs to look in the mirror and figure out how he can step up their game.  That’s a decision each individual has to make.  Our kids obviously made some really sound decisions.  The guys had a belief in their ability to succeed that wasn’t reflected in our 8-6 regular season record.  But it sure showed through in May.

During the first part of the season your offense was trying to figure out its own identity. As a coach, how did help your players find that identity that turned into one of the most explosive offenses in the country?

A lot of credit goes to Coach (David) Metzbower.  He looked at a lot of different combinations.  We were not afraid to convert players to other positions and give some other kids a chance.  We felt being able to go seven deep in the midfield and put pressure on the goal from those positions allowed us to have three spectacular years by our attackmen.  And the fact a lot of our midfielders were converted attackmen and two of our attackmen were converted midfielders – that versatility really worked well.

What was one message you tried to push ever day in practice this past season?

It’s a long season and it’s always about getting better every day.  Every single day.

If you could go back to your first day you put a whistle around your neck as a coach at UNC, what do you wish you would’ve known then that you know now?

That you can’t rush building a program.  It develops over time.  In the modern era with so much parity, winning championships is extremely hard, and you need some breaks along the way.  Many programs never get the chance we had this year.  When we got to the semifinals you just got a sense we might do something special.  But certainly over the course of the entire year Maryland was the best team.  Our kids played that championship game knowing we could compete and it literally took more than 62 minutes to pull it off.

How do you plan to enjoy this National Championship victory?

I want to share it with all the folks who made it happen – my players, coaches, staff.  I think the University in general has really embraced the two championships we won Memorial Day weekend in a unique way.  You can just feel it on campus.  I’m proud to have been part of a team which brought such joy to our alumni and our fans.  You never know when you may have that chance again.  You better enjoy it when it happens.

2016 UNC Men's Lacrosse

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

Congratulations to Coach Breschi and the UNC Men’s Lacrosse program on their historic National Championship win!

National Championship All-Access

Breschi Family Interview with LaxAllStars