(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)
Heading into the 2021 season, both Duke and North Carolina will have a lot of hype around them as they both look to be amongst the cream of the crop in the ACC, which has the potential to be as wild as ever, and on the national landscape. Certainly, all eyes will be on Tobacco Road for the entirety of the 2021 season – especially if both squads live up to their hype.
Duke, who was 6-2 overall with both their losses coming by three goals or less, has made by far the biggest splash this offseason with the landing of Princeton grad transfer and 2019 Tewarraton Award frontrunner Michael Sowers. The attackman was leading the nation in points per game (9.40) and assists per game (6.2) when the 2020 season was cut short.
Even if the Blue Devils just had Sowers they would likely be seen as a potential title contender. But they have much more talent, especially on the offensive end, than just the former Princeton Tiger. Duke also brings back attackmen Dyson Williams (28 points) and Joe Robertson who sat out with an injury last season, as well as midfielders Owen Caputo (12G/8A), Nakeie Montgomery (7G/5A), and Cameron Badour (8G/7A). And that’s just scratching the surface as far as returnees are concerned.
The Blue Devils will also be getting incoming freshman Brennan O’Neill, who is ranked as the No. 1 player in the 2020 class by Inside Lacrosse.
With all that talent on the offensive end next season, any defense that faces Duke will need to bring their A-game or they could get easily burned by, potentially, one of the most lethal offenses in the country. And if Duke does indeed return JT Giles-Harris for an extra season, their defense could end up being a pretty scary unit as well.
Head 20 minutes southwest to Chapel Hill and you’ll find another team in the North Carolina Tar Heels that features a highflying offense that looks to help carry their squad to the promised land in 2021.
Highlighted by attackman Chris Gray, who tallied 48 points (27G/21A) and helped the Tar Heels to an impressive 7-0 start before the 2020 season was shut down, North Carolina’s offense could be even more deadly in 2021 with guys having more chemistry than they did last season. The Tar Heels offense will also return attackmen Nicky Solomon (13G/16A) attackman Alex Trippi (10G/17A).
Additionally, North Carolina will add grad transfer midfielder Connor McCarthy from Princeton. The Tar Heels could also potentially return senior midfielders Justin Anderson and Tanner Cook for an extra year. But even if they end up not returning those two, McCarthy is a huge addition to a midfield unit that was pretty top-heavy last season and could greatly benefit from some more high-quality talent and depth at the position.
With Gray running the show just like last season and a more experienced and potentially deeper pool of talent around him, the Tar Heels’ offense could, once again, be one of the most exciting in the nation. And on the defensive end, North Carolina was much improved from years past in 2020 and will return a pretty good chunk of talent, including defenseman Will Bowen.
Whoever you side with: Duke, North Carolina, or neither, what goes down on Tobacco Road every single week in 2021 will be worth watching or, at least, keeping an eye on. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, both of North Carolina’s DI teams could be there on Championship Weekend.