Today's college lacrosse schedule reads like an invitation list to the NCAA tournament, with four of the nation's top five teams meeting each other.
After opening the year with five predictably easy wins, fifth-ranked Maryland will get its first major test of the year against No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill at 2 p.m. Fourth-ranked Virginia, which has rebounded from an opening-day defeat to North Carolina to win its last three games, will play host to second-ranked Johns Hopkins at 2 p.m.
Maryland is hoping to pull off an upset as big as the Tar Heels' surprise last year. North Carolina beat the Terrapins for the first time ever, 13-12, in double overtime on a shot by Doug Hall. The victory helped the Tar Heels gain national attention. They went on to win the NCAA championship, while Maryland slumped to a 10-5 record.
"No doubt about it, things have changed some," said Maryland Coach Dino Mattessich. "They definitely have the better team. We're just going to have to try to control the ball and take them out of their game."
Maryland has relied this year on young, mostly inexperienced attackmen whose mistakes haven't been too damaging against weaker opponents.
North Carolina (3-0) has nine starters, seven of them all-America selections, and 31 lettermen returning. Michael Burnett, the Atlantic Coast Conference's player of the year last year, leads the team in goals with nine and in assists with six.
Maryland, with Jim Wilkerson its only returning attackman, has outscored its opponents, 82-44, and averaged 20 more shots a game than the opposition. But the Tar Heels' defense of Jamie Allen, John Haus, Gary Burns and all-America goalie Tom Sears will probably prove a little stingier.
Even at midfield, where the Terrapins are pretty solid with Jack Francis, Mike Blair and team captain Don Sadler, North Carolina has the edge. The Tar Heels have Hall, who was a first-team all-America last season; Pete Voelkel, a second-team all-America, and Jeff Homier, an honorable-mention all-America.
In Charlottesville, Virginia is going to have to overcome a slight case of the jitters against Hopkins (4-0).
"Every time they step on the field they have a psychological advantage," said Virginia Coach Jim Adams. "I don't think our guys are in awe of them, but it's something we're going to have to be very careful about."
Hopkins' high-powered offense is centered around all-America Jeff Cook, a consistent 30-goal-a-year scorer. Virginia relies on Randy Natoli (12 goals, one assist), Rick Giusto (12 goals, one assist) and Mike Caravana (five goals, eight assists).