Tar Heels' Holman up to Hopkins challenge

Freshman from Gilman to replace injured star Bitter

April 02, 2010|By Edward Lee | edward.lee@baltsun.com

Marcus Holman has gone from being No. 4 to replacing No. 1.

Holman, a freshman reserve attackman for the No. 3 North Carolina men's lacrosse team, is expected to start Saturday against No. 12 Johns Hopkins (4-4). That's because junior Billy Bitter, the team's most dangerous player and a favorite to win the Tewaaraton Trophy, is dealing with a leg injury that could sideline him for the second straight week.

It might be a lot to ask of a freshman, but Holman, a Baltimore native and Gilman graduate, said he is up for the task.

"If I tried to imitate what [Bitter] did on the field, I wouldn't be very successful," he said. "So in a sense, there's not very much pressure because I know that if I just go out and play my style and we're not trying to do too much, at the end of the day I think we'll be very successful. So it just comes down to doing the little things and not trying to do too much."

Holman has done plenty for the Tar Heels (9-0), who join No. 1 Virginia as the only remaining unbeaten schools in Division I. In just five starts, he ranks third on the squad in goals (14) and is tied for fifth in points (17).

His four-goal, one-assist performance in North Carolina's 9-7 victory over No. 5 Maryland last Saturday in an emergency start for Bitter earned him the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Week award. It's the second time this season Holman has scored four goals in a game (the first occurred in an 11-4 win against Navy on Feb. 25), and ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra was impressed with Holman's play against the Terps.

"He's one of those kids who's just in the right spot at the right time," said Carcaterra, a former All-America midfielder who helped Syracuse capture the 1995 national championship. "He's very opportunistic. He's the type of kid that a coach doesn't have to say to him, 'You need to be here, you need to be there.' He just has that sixth sense to find those seams in a defense."

If you believe Brian Holman, his son's innate sense has been developed since he took up lacrosse "at birth." At 10, Marcus Holman decided to give up baseball for lacrosse.

Holman was a two-time Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection and a three-year starter at Gilman who propelled the Greyhounds to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A championship last spring. He committed to the Tar Heels over Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Notre Dame despite the presence of Bitter, senior Gavin Petracca and sophomore Thomas Wood at Holman's position.

"People might say, 'Why would you go there when they already have three excellent attackmen?' " Holman said. "I've learned so much from those guys, and they've been so helpful to me. That's something I couldn't get at those other schools. The lessons I've learned and the values that they've taught me and the X's and O's have been invaluable, and I'm very thankful for that."

His father, who is a volunteer assistant coach for North Carolina, said Holman is comfortable with his role as the first attackman off the bench.

"I think Marcus' mentality - and I think it's the same way with all our guys - is they're willing to do whatever it takes for us to succeed," Brian Holman said. "It's very fortunate for him to even be in that spot as a freshman. [Chief assistant] coach [Pat] Myers was really clear with all our guys that we were going to try to play as many guys as we can. So he's embraced his role, and he works hard in practice."

Holman's education included playing alongside Bitter, a whirling dervish of an attackman whose spin moves, sudden cutbacks and jaw-dropping dodges can confound opposing defensemen and unaware teammates alike.

"It's very tough to play with Billy Bitter because you don't know where he's going," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "But Marcus learned to play with Billy in a hurry - in how he reads Billy and his movement off-ball. ... Some guys are running into Billy, some guys are cutting where Billy's going. But Marcus was always kind of reading him and being in the right spot at the right time."

Many who know and have watched Holman said his greatest talent is his ability to finish his shots.

That's important for a player who describes himself as not having the greatest speed or the fastest shot.

"But I'd like to think that I'm a hard worker, and riding and ground balls are two things that you don't have to have much talent to do," Holman said. "You just have to have heart and a good work ethic."

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