UNC Makes a Splash With ’25 Middies, Landing Four of the Top Six
In this article:
At this point, success on the recruiting trail for the members of the ACC is a foregone conclusion. That said, the first few months of the Class of 2025 recruiting cycle produced tremendous results with Top 50 juniors compared to the past few classes.
30 recruits in the Top 50 have committed to the ACC, and Notre Dame’s eight ranked commits matched the collective total for the Big 10. North Carolina and Virginia each checked in with seven Top 50 commits, while Duke snagged six, and Syracuse secured a pair. Last fall, the ACC accounted for 24 Top 50 recruits in the Class of 2024, and in the ’23 class, just 14 Top 50 recruits picked ACC programs and 15 ended up in the top half of Inside Lacrosse’s Power 100 rankings for the incoming freshmen.
A lot can change in two years, however, North Carolina currently has the top-ranked class according to IL’s formula, edging out Notre Dame’s point total by a hair. The Tar Heels, who added longtime head coaches and recruiting stalwarts Dave Pietramala and Jon Thompson to pair with head coach Joe Breschi and assistant Kevin Unterstein, had a relentless approach to the Class of 2025 and entered December with four of the top six-ranked midfielders. A statement was made on Long Island, as three of Carolina’s four 5-star commits are from Team 91 Long Island, including No. 12 junior , a versatile defenseman.
Today, we’re taking a look at Carolina’s midfield class, a group that will follow a pair of 5-star signees in Mason Szewczyk and Caden Harshbarger, among others.
Merrill was the final Top 50 recruit off the board this fall, choosing Carolina over Duke, Notre Dame, and Virginia in mid-November. His recruiting process was drawn out due to his status as the Friars’ QB this fall (Merrill was recently tabbed Second Team All-Long Island), and it never really felt like there was a team to beat leading up to his eventual decision.
Now, he’s the headliner of a top-rated class that was already insanely talented at the midfield on paper. Merrill, who pairs a 6’1, 175-pound frame with freakish athleticism, plays with a competitive edge that separates him from the rest of the pack. Throughout the summer, Merrill routinely took matters into his own hands whenever 91 Shock needed a goal, especially during his squad’s wildly impressive run to a title at the NLF Summer Championships.
Armed with an exceptional shot on the run, he’s incredibly dangerous going from defense to offense and puts so much pressure on the opposition. When he was playing in settled 6-on-6 offense this summer, Merrill was one of the few ’25 middies willing and able to go attack poles. I’d imagine that he’s due for a huge spring given how much St. Anthony’s graduated on offense, and he’s bound to get even better with increased varsity experience.
The first five-star in the Class of 2025 to pick the Heels this fall, Bair earned All-MIAA recognition following a 26-goal, 21-assist sophomore campaign despite suffering a hip injury heading into the Crusaders’ in-league schedule. After a sensational summer in which he was named MVP of the Maverik Showtime All-Star Game and turned heads at every spot, Bair was quite the hot commodity for Big 10 and ACC programs, strongly considering Duke, Virginia, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Penn State before picking Carolina.
At 5’10 and 180 pounds, Bair may not be the biggest, but he makes up for it with his athleticism, aggressiveness, and skill level, along with a high compete level that stands out at all times. He’s savvy and assertive when he’s carrying, yet he doesn’t need the ball to generate offense for his team — he sets great picks, creates scoring opportunities with well-timed cuts, and has a snappy release off the catch. In addition, much can be said about his versatility. There’s no doubt that Bair projects as an offensive midfielder, however, he’s been known to make stops on defense or line up at attack and excel when dodging from below GLE.
Raio made a loud statement on Long Island in the form of a 90-point season on 60 goals and 30 assists, impressive totals for a college-bound senior in Suffolk County, let alone a sophomore middie. On the summer circuit, his innate feel for the game was quickly apparent — if lacrosse used the plus-minus statistic, Raio’s would likely be higher than any ’25 at his position due to his ability to consistently make the right play with poise.He has elite hands, setting LI single-season records this fall with 84 receptions and 1,381 receiving yards along with 16 receiving touchdowns while catching passes from another record-breaker in No. 28 junior(Syracuse), his 91 Shock teammate. In club ball, he works in tandem with Merrill and often gets matched up with shortsticks, using his foot speed to get by them. There are times when he could stand to be more aggressive and less passive, although that isn’t the case in the spring or a long-term concern. Even though he’s the type of matchup that opponents would want to cover with a longstick, Raio is headed to a place where he’ll be surrounded by a wealth of dynamic 5-star middies in the ’24 and ’25 recruiting classes, which should open things up for him to do even more damage.
Bowman is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing players in the class, and his hulking 6’5, 210-pound frame is hard to miss. A Darien (Conn.) native, Bowman transferred out of the Blue Wave’s program following the 2022 season and repeated his sophomore year at Prep, where he’s a boarding student. Late in the spring, it was clear that he was gaining confidence and able to threaten opposing defenses with his combination of size, athleticism, and a hammer of a shot. This summer, Bowman showed flashes of dominance with Express North and at the One Percent Showcase, where he was named Offensive MVP.
Still, he’s only just scratching the surface, and that’s scary. Bowman has the capability of taking over games and did just that plenty of times this summer, beating double teams with his sheer strength and putting the ball in the back of the net. Quite frankly, players with that stature aren’t supposed to move like him. The biggest knock on him throughout the recruiting process, however, was the hit-or-miss nature of his game in terms of consistency. He has grown and developed a lot in the past year, so he’s still learning to use his frame to his advantage on a more regular basis, but there’s so much upside, and it’ll be interesting to watch how he polishes his offensive skill set.