ANNAPOLIS | There won't be a winning regular season for the Navy lacrosse team this spring, not after a 10-4 loss to Maryland on Friday continued a three-game slide.
An NCAA tournament berth is, at this stage, improbable. Heck, a spot in the Patriot League tournament isn't guaranteed for the Midshipmen.
Those details - not to mention the sting of its most lopsided loss to Maryland since 1998 - mean little for Navy (4-7). After all, Army is on the horizon Saturday in Annapolis.
"We come out Monday the same either way," midfielder Marty Gallagher said. "It's not like, 'Oh, we have to win this game.' We have to win this game anyway regardless of what happens."
This is what happens in the sport's purest rivalry week, particularly a season after Navy lost twice to Army. It's the predictable outcome when a coach spends time fixated on a single opponent year-round and freely admits it. It's the logical development when a single thing going right can wipe out much of the accumulated misery of two months.
Navy sized its troubles up shortly after losing to Maryland. Its defensive woes early in the season have since given way to offensive troubles. The Mids have 16 goals in their last three games, and they were quickly dispatched as Maryland bolted to a 6-1 lead after a quarter Friday.
For a week, the troubles (Navy will tie a school record for losses in a season with its next setback) and the postseason ramifications don't matter.
Only Army does.
"I'm not going to diminish the importance of the Army-Navy game or the men that have played in it for both teams to break it down to whether it's a playoff spot," coach Richie Meade said. "It's got nothing to do with the Patriot League playoffs to me. If you guys want to write about that, you can. To me, it's the Army-Navy game, and it's the most important game that we play. It's our greatest rival, and that by itself makes it an important game."
(The necessary - though not vital - footnote: Navy isn't assured of a spot in its conference tournament with a win, but with a loss its season will end April 23 at Johns Hopkins.)
It's a possible reality that doesn't sit well with Meade. But he also knows Navy is inexperienced (just 12 of the 26 Mids who played Friday were juniors or seniors) and finds himself in charge of an exuberant outfit despite its record.
"I'm not pie in the sky," Meade said. "I don't like losing and I'm not looking for the rainbow here. I'm just telling you: These guys are very good leaders. They faced adversity and they've done exactly what you would hope a team would do facing the situation we faced. Because of that, every single week, it's exciting to work with them."
This could be the Mids' best week of the year. Or it could be the worst. One thing is obvious: Even with a large stack of losses, Navy still hasn't played its most important contest.
"Just win the next game," goalie R.J. Wickham said. "That's all we need to worry about."
Regardless of circumstances, that's always Navy's plan when it prepares for Army.
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