By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
North Carolina men’s lacrosse was in the midst of a major bounce-back season in 2020. An offense that already featured the likes of Tanner Cook (20 goals, seven assists) and Nicky Solomon (13 goals, 16 assists) was further sparked, thanks to the arrival of All-American BU transfer attack-man Chris Gray (27 goals, 21 assists).
After missing the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years, the Tar Heels stormed out of the gates in 2020 with a 7-0 start, which included a pair of wins over perennial powerhouses Denver (15-13) and Johns Hopkins (17-10).
Unbeaten and heading into the heart of their 2020 schedule, (Georgetown, Maryland, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame), it was setting up to be an extremely special year for UNC lacrosse. On March 12, two days before UNC's game against Georgetown, the NCAA announced the remainder of the 2020 spring athletic season would be cancelled due to COVID-19. North Carolina finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country, but the thought of what could have been will always linger in the back of the minds of UNC’s players and fans.
One member of this UNC lacrosse team is Dover native and former DS High School star Bailey Laidman (’17). After redshirting his freshman season due to injury, Laidman made his debut in 2019, recording a pair of goals in a 17-5 victory over Marist. Poised to see more time and breakout as a redshirt junior in 2020, Laidman never got the chance.
“We had a definable few days right when the season was cancelled where we were all super bummed out, because we knew we had something special,” said Laidman. “But the more we thought about it and how many kids we have coming back, I think that kind of turns the excitement. We know that we are going to be so much better next year and we have some unfinished business to attend to. We’re coming into next year pretty optimistic. It’s definitely the most confident we’ve been since I’ve been at UNC.”
Asked about his new teammate, Chris Gray, Laidman says it’s an honor to be able to play with him. Laidman looks forward to seeing what he and his team will be able to accomplish in 2021 with Gray back in the fold.
“Chris can ball,” said Laidman. “He’s a ton of fun to watch and so easy to learn from because he’s so selfless on the field. He’s so much fun to play with and definitely a dream come true getting to play with a guy like that. We’re stacked on attack and got one of the best first-line middle groups returning, so we’re definitely looking pretty good for next year.”
Like all of us, Laidman is now home in Dover doing his best to cope with quarantine while we wait for this to end. He says he’s embraced the ability to spend more time with his family, and also went on to credit his coaches at North Carolina for helping him stay connected with the entire UNC lacrosse community in a both productive and fun manner.
“I think we’re all trying not to go crazy in my house. The fate of the day normally starts and ends with whether or not my mom and I argue in the morning,” joked Laidman when asked about how he and his family are holding up during quarantine. “But yeah, my sister has been coming back and forth from Boston every other week, so that’s been nice to see her. I’ve picked up reading a little bit, just to keep my mind going.”
“Our coaches have done a fantastic job doing that,” said Laidman. “We’ve been having team meetings on Zoom a lot, and every Sunday, we all have to put on a funny outfit. We’ve also been having meetings with our trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, academic advisors and positional coaches. We have offensive film every Monday and Wednesday at 5 p.m., which helps keep us all engaged with lacrosse, and that’s really awesome. A lot of the guys are still back at school and we’re all staying connected in team group chats and Snapchat and Zoom calls, so everyone is doing a pretty good job of checking up on one another.
After the remainder of the 2020 season was cancelled, spring athletes were granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA. Even after already red-shirting one season, Laidman still has two years of eligibility remaining, thanks to the grant. As far his future is concerned, Laidman says he is certainly entertaining the idea of playing a fifth year at UNC, but his main priority right now is just completing his academic requirements, and then figuring out whatever comes next.
“The thought of doing another year is definitely a conversation I’ve had with my parents and my guidance counselor to kind of figure out what I want to do - whether that’s taking a bunch of summer courses to get ahead, or to get a job or something like that,” said Laidman. “So, I’m figuring that all out now. I’m planning on finishing all my work to graduate on time and then see how the season goes to see if I’m up to play another fifth year as a graduate [student].”
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.