- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

All the usual facets of lacrosse’s greatest rivalry will be on display when top-ranked Johns Hopkins visits No. 9 Maryland tonight — plenty of talent, fierce play and a big crowd.

A new element to the mix, though, is just the slightest trace of desperation.

The Terrapins (5-4) have dropped three of their last four, including one-goal losses to Dartmouth and Navy and a 10-2 humbling at Virginia. They enter their regular-season meeting with the Blue Jays (8-0) with four losses for the first time in the program’s 80-year history and could end the night with their first three-game losing streak since a program-record four-game skid in 1988.

But the Terps aren’t willing to discount themselves just yet.

“We’ve lost some games, and obviously people are going to count you out when you’re 5-4 with Johns Hopkins up next and the ACC tournament after that …” junior attackman Joe Walters said. “Other people don’t know what we have. Other people don’t know what we’re capable of. They see the record, they see the losses that we have and they probably don’t think we can stick with a top team, and that’s wrong. We’ll show them Friday night.”

Maryland isn’t in immediate danger of missing the NCAA tournament for only the third time since 1991. Its season-opening rout of Georgetown is among the most impressive quality wins this season, and the Terps also have downed postseason hopefuls Bucknell and Towson.

If the Terps win just two more games — after tonight they have visits to Fairfield (8-2) and Penn (1-9) sandwiched around the ACC tournament — they will be guaranteed a winning record and postseason eligibility. Still, squeaking into the NCAA tournament isn’t what the Terps envisioned after being a tabbed a top-five team in the preseason.

“I think people think we’ll find our way into the tournament and maybe win the first game, but I don’t think anyone considers us a contender at this point,” junior midfielder Brendan Healy said. “But we’ve lost some close games, and we just haven’t finished off games. If we start doing that, I think the sky’s the limit for this team. It’s a young team without a lot of experience, but once everyone gets comfortable in tight situations, we’ll be good to go.”

So far, the Terps haven’t performed well in close games, often combining poor shooting (they are at 24.5 percent for the season) with a penchant for an ill-timed turnover or bad decision. Last week against Navy, Maryland turned it over after a stall warning with 3:13 left while nursing an 8-7 lead and never saw the ball again. Navy scored, won the ensuing faceoff on a Maryland procedure call and then added the game-winner with 14 seconds left.

A series of injuries have contributed to the Terps’ woes. Midfielder Bill McGlone nursed a shoulder injury for three weeks. Atttackman Mike Phipps sat out last week with a shin injury and could miss tonight’s game. Attackman Xander Ritz has battled nagging injuries all season but still has played in every game.

Despite those concerns, Maryland coach Dave Cottle doesn’t view tonight as a must-win — even though an upset of Hopkins would eliminate any concerns about the Terps’ record.

“I don’t think anybody who knows anything about lacrosse would say that,” Cottle said. “We want to win a game for us, but I think if we’re 7-6, we’re in the tournament. … That’s not what our goals are, but if we have a winning record, we’re going to the tournament.”

Regardless of how Maryland plays, it won’t be easy to topple Hopkins, the lone unbeaten team in Division I. The Blue Jays have won three straight from the Terps and 14 straight regular-season games overall.

The Terps’ long-standing rivalry with Hopkins will ensure a decent crowd tonight at Byrd Stadium. The series has drawn at least 7,000 in each of the last four years, including a crowd of 10,555 at Homewood last year. For the Terps, it could be the perfect setting for a season-turning performance.

“It’s special because for a game during the season — not the playoffs, not the final four — to get that many people, that’s a special feeling and it’s amazing,” Walters said. “You just want to perform so well for all those people and prove that you’re the real deal.”

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