North Carolina lacrosse goalkeeper Steven Rastivo of Ward Melville High...

North Carolina lacrosse goalkeeper Steven Rastivo of Ward Melville High School. Credit: UNC Athletic Communications

When top-ranked Johns Hopkins (8-0) meets No. 11 North Carolina (7-3) in the Big City Classic Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it will be the most significant lacrosse game in the career of UNC goalkeeper Steven Rastivo, a former high school All-American at Ward Melville.

Rastivo expects about 30 friends and relatives to attend the game, which will be televised on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. A crowd in excess of 20,000 is expected for the three-game event.

"This will be our last year participating in the Big City Classic and we have yet to win there,'' Rastivo said. "We obviously want to leave an impact and get that big win in that big venue.''

Rastivo, who has started all 10 games and has a .531 save percentage, has never faced a No. 1 team. He and some teammates excitedly watched Hopkins knock off defending champion and then-No. 1 Virginia last Saturday. "They are a great team,'' Rastivo said of Hopkins. "It will be a great challenge for our team.''

For Rastivo's dad, Russell, the game will provide a highlight in a career his son started at 7. "Greg Cattrano, one of the best goalies to attend Ward Melville, lived by us and gave him this big huge stick that was bigger than Steven,'' Russell Rastivo recalled. "He popped in the net and he never came out. In the basement, the backyard, he was out of his mind. If it was snowing or 10 degrees, he just loved it. He did the soccer thing, the baseball thing, but when he got that stick, he never looked back.''

Rastivo initially attended Penn State but left after his freshman season. "It just wasn't a great fit for me lacrossewise,'' he said. "I thought North Carolina would be a great opportunity for me.''

UNC has been in the shadow of Virginia and Duke in the ACC, but a recent victory over Maryland, Sunday night's matchup with Hopkins and a game with Virginia on Saturday have created a huge opportunity for the Tar Heels to make strides in the national scene.

"We're in the meat of our schedule,'' Rastivo said. "We're trying to build off the previous games and get better every time out there.''

Rastivo spent the week studying the Hopkins offense, which is led by Canadians Zach Palmer (12 goals, 16 assists) and Brandon Benn (18, four). "For me personally, they have offensive talent all over the field,'' Rastivo said. "I've watched individual clips of each player to see if I notice any tendencies or anything that really sticks out on tape.''

UNC is led by Marcus Holman (14, 19), Joey Sankey (17, nine), Jimmy Bitter (12, seven) and Davey Emala (12, seven). Former West Islip star Nicky Galasso, who last season set a freshman team record with 56 points, still is recovering from surgery after suffering a broken foot in November and has three goals and one assist in six games.

Rastivo is looking forward to the center-stage event, saying: "I'll try not to put too much pressure on myself. My No. 1 priority is to stop the ball, one shot at a time.''


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