Carolina’s Tobacco Road Climbs West

Lees McRae Lacrosse
Lees-McRae faces off against Montreat on February 21. (photo – T.Flynn)

BANNER ELK, N.C. (August 1, 2018)  – The hub of North Carolina’s men’s lacrosse power is centered squarely on Tobacco Road between Chapel Hill, home to the UNC Tar Heels, and Durham, home to the Duke Blue Devils.

The Tar Heels established lacrosse at the club level in 1937, and Duke followed suit a year later. The two are now members of the NCAA’s Division I, and UNC has five national championships on its resumé (the latest earned in 2016) while the Blue Devils boast three, including the 2014 national title. 

In the mountainous western portion of the state, the game is a much more recent arrival and is featured only at several smaller colleges and universities centered loosely around Asheville. They include Lees-McRae (NCAA DII), Montreat (NAIA), Mars Hill (NCAA DII), and Brevard (NCAA DIII)

The Bobcats are the lacrosse elder statesmen of the state’s western region, having begun play in 1997. Mars Hill followed in 2004, while Brevard added men’s lacrosse in 2007, and Montreat in 2015. The two largest universities in the region, Western Carolina and UNC Asheville, do not yet include the sport on the men’s or women’s side. 

This fall, all four of those programs will have first or second-year head coaches, including Brad Dunn, who enters his second year at Lees-McRae. Dunn previously coached Coastal Carolina’s entry in the MCLA’s Southeast Lacrosse Conference and was a member of the Bobcats’ team from 2002-2006. On staff with Dunn is assistant coach and 2016 Lees-McRae graduate and former Bobcat, Dustin Barrow

Lees-McRae Lacrosse

The team went 2-7 in Dunn’s first year at its helm, with wins over Montreat and Emmanuel (Ga.). The win over the Cavaliers was a dramatic comeback victory over what’s proving a well-matched regional rival. “We’re looking forward to another game in 2019 against Montreat, and getting Mars Hill back on the schedule,” said Dunn. “Both of those programs provide a unique challenge for us.”

The Bobcats defeated Brevard, 14-13, the last time the two teams played in 2017. In 2016, they dropped an 8-6 decision to Mars Hill. Parity among the four teams should help accelerate the rivalries beyond their relative youth.

Lees-McRae sits at 3,720 feet in the town of Banner Elk, the highest altitude of any college or university campus east of the Mississippi. Dunn sees the lofty heights as a factor in his team’s fortunes.

“I believe that if nothing else, the mental edge is ours against teams who travel up to play us, but it also impacts our roster in the first weeks of training,” said Dunn. “The squad does take a few practices to acclimate to the thinner air while conditioning. That said, we love our mountains and all that comes with them.”