To say Ryan Flanagan has accomplished a lot during his tenure at North Carolina would be an understatement. Both on and off the field, the senior and first team pre-season All-American has taken his game to new heights.
The 2010 co-winner of the National Defenseman of the Year award (Flanagan shared the award with Virginia’s Ken Claussen), the Long Island product not only led the Tar Heels to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NCAA Quarterfinals, but just recently returned from a semester in Uganda. Flanagan was given the chance of a lifetime from coach Joe Breschi and was granted permission to study abroad in East Africa and help out withFields of Growth International. The foundation, which uses athletics as a community and human development tool, is run by Notre Dame’s Director of Men’s Lacrosse Operations, Kevin Dugan.
The 6’6”, 240 lb Flanagan will lead the #4 ranked Tar Heels in the 2011 season and will have some very talented players around him. Electrifying attackman Billy Bitter will quarterback the offense along with midfielder Jimmy Dunster. Bitter and Dunster are both pre-season All-Americans.
While the ACC is going to be a very tough conference in ’11, Flanagan believes the Tar Heels have what it takes to come out of the conference on top. Flanagan joined College Crosse for a few questions just before the holidays.
College Crosse: First off, talk about the playoffs in 2010. You were in a very close first round game with Deleware then got upset by Duke. What did you learn from those two games and what will it take for the Tar Heels to make the jump to final four weekend in 2011?
Ryan Flanagan: I think last year was another stepping stone for our program. We started the season very strong but started to fade towards the end. Everyone involved in the program learned the importance of playing well at the end of the year. Duke is a great example of that. They did not start the season playing their best but they were unbelievable in May. We also learned the importance of developing depth because injuries and exhaustion played a big part in our struggles at the end of the season. We had a lot of guys that we needed on the field for the entire game and by the end of the season guys just did not have enough left in the tank. It was a great learning experience and we look forward to taking it a step further this coming year.
CC: Lets talk about 2011. Can this be the year UNC goes all the way?
RF: We love what we have coming back and we are very happy with our freshman class so far. We just ended a great fall season where a lot of our young guys were given opportunities to make plays and learn our system while some of the older guys stepped up in to new leadership roles. There is a ton of talent across the country and, as I mentioned earlier, it comes down to who is playing well in May. If we compete as hard as we can and get better through out the season, we like our chances.
RF: It is impossible to replace guys like Gavin and Sean. They meant a ton to the program at UNC and will be missed. For this upcoming season we are looking forward to Jimmy Dunster, who I feel is one of the best midfielders in the country, taking his game to an even higher level. Sean Burke is returning after missing last year with an injury. We love Sean’s athleticism and confidence. He has been drawing the long pole midfielder since he was a freshman and we can’t wait to see him healthy. I think we are going to run a lot of bodies out of the midfield and lean on some of the young legs we have to make plays for us.
In my opinion, Thomas Wood is one of the most complete attackmen in the country. He is a threat from outside, can make plays on the crease and is a threat when he is carrying the ball. He had a great season last year and is another guy we look forward to taking his game to another level. Marcus Holman was this past years ACC Rookie of the year and we are very excited to get him on the field more and more. We are counting on him to have an explosive sophomore year like we saw out of Jimmy and Thomas. With his work ethic and passion, it is hard to imagine that he will not meet and exceed our expectations.
CC: As for the defense, can you tell us a little bit about the 2011 Tar Heels defense? Will it be Chris Madalon in goal or James Petracca? Anything that will surprise us about this defense?
RF: I think what will surprise some people is that we are going to struggle and we are lucky if we can win a lot of shoot-outs. Our defense is going to be shorter than last year. Mike Jarvis’ voice and athleticism is going to be tough to replace with one person. Charlie McComas returns and we are looking to expand his role. His is a great athlete and we can’t wait to use him in a lot of different ways. Kevin Piegare is a senior who has been in the system for a few years and is a very intelligent lacrosse player. Kevin has been on the brink of a starting spot for the past 3 years and this could be his year. We brought in a freshman, Jordan Smith, who is a great raw athlete. He is going to have a great career at UNC and we look forward to his early contribution.
We love our goalie situation. Unfortunately, James Petracca will not be joining us this season as he is going to Australia to study. However, we do return Chris Madalon and Steve Restivo. We are very fortunate to have 2 goalies that could play for any team in the country so it is a pleasure to see them compete in practice everyday. We are going to let the goalies play and see who earns the starting spot the day before the Robert Morris game.
CC: A little change of topic, I know you got a chance to go to Ugandaand help out with the Fields of Growth Foundation. What did that meanto you and just tell us a little bit about that whole experience?
RF: I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to go to Uganda with Fields of Growth International. Coach Breschi may be the only coach in the country who would let his senior captain take the semester off, skip fall ball, and go run around in East Africa for two months. His desire for us to become well-rounded student-athletes is what makes it such a pleasure to play for him. He understand that there is a lot more to life than lacrosse and is committed to making sure his athletes experience everything possible. I could not be happier after my experience with Fields of Growth. Since the first day I talked to Coach Dugan about going on a trip, he was incredibly supportive of everything I wanted to accomplish in my fund raising goals (despite the NCAA’s best effort to prevent fund raising) and while I was in Uganda.
I could talk about the trip for days and you can find my blog and a video of my trip at www.team247lax.com. How many people get to spend two months living with locals in another country, building a school, a home, going bunjee jumping and white water kayaking at the Nile, and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
CC: Lastly, you’re a senior. What does this final year mean to you and how badly do you want to end your UNC career off by winning the National Championship?
RF: Every college athlete wants to finish their career with a National Championship no matter what sport they play. It has been about 20 years since UNC has won a National Championship in lacrosse and putting an end to that streak would be a dream come true. It has been a goal of mine since the day I began playing sports and look forward to giving it everything I have over the next few months.