Dan Tracy, the Maryland lacrosse team's all-America defenseman, was watching the Villanova players celebrate their upset of Georgetown in the NCAA basketball championship when his childhood friend, Wildcats guard Gary McLain, came on the screen.

" 'Nobody knows how hard we worked,' that's what he said," recalled Tracy, who played in the same football backfield with McLain on the Baldwin High School team on New York's Long Island.

"It's the same with us," Tracy said. "I don't think anybody knows how hard we work."

Faced with the prospect of playing sixth-ranked Virginia today, and 10th-ranked Navy and top-ranked Johns Hopkins the succeeding weekends, Tracy and his teammates were uplifted by Villanova's unlikely victory. "It just goes to show, anything can happen," Tracy said.

When the fourth-ranked Terrapins beat third-ranked North Carolina, 10-5, Sunday at Byrd Stadium, they pulled off an upset of their own. With their 5-0 start this season, it left many of them believing the team had cracked lacrosse's upper echelon.

"Sunday was a turning point," said Tracy. "We had the idea that we could be this good, but it was a major step. This was our first real test."

After Maryland played a near-flawless game (they limited the Tar Heels to five goals, 12 below their average, committed no penalties and outperformed them on faceoffs, 13-6, and ground balls, 51-31), the team prepared as hard as ever for its game with Virginia (4-1), which has lost only to Johns Hopkins.

"I was here two years ago when we beat Carolina, 11-9, here and got blown out by Virginia (17-6)," Tracy said. "We know we have to have a good week of practice.

"I don't feel the attitude of two years ago. We're a young team. We know we can't walk on the field and beat anyone."

Of the three upcoming games, today's may be the most important because the Cavaliers' talent is similar to Maryland's, although Virginia's personnel and approach are not.

"If you look at Virginia's roster," said Maryland's second-year coach, Dick Edell, "it's almost like Thomas Jefferson said, you have to be 6 feet, 180 or better to play lacrosse at Virginia. It's like two or three kids on the whole roster aren't clones of a good-looking athlete. You know 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 185, 200. They dwarf us."

"We know they're big guys," said freshman midfielder Tom Worstell. "We'll have to use our quickness and speed. We have to match up with their weak players and take them to the hoop."

The Terrapins aren't particularly small, but with six seniors, four juniors, 12 sophomores and 18 freshmen, they are as young as any of the teams they play.

Oddly, youth, inexperience and the lack of a bona fide scorer have been key ingredients in this year's success.

Worstell, whose two unassisted goals in the North Carolina game helped the Terrapins to a 3-2 lead, epitomizes the talent on the team. He played club lacrosse for the Braddock Road Youth Club and was recruited as much because of his bloodlines (his two brothers, Pete and Tim, were all-Americas at Maryland) as anything else. Edell is counting heavily on the 6-2, 185-pound midfielder.

"This team reminds me of a high school team," Edell said. "Most of my players are one year out. Going into Sunday, Carolina had seniors who have played in the last three (NCAA) semifinals.

"I've got kids. For my freshmen, that was the biggest game of their lives. Now, they're no longer kids."

Said Tracy: "We don't have any superstars. If you look up in the box score, you see a lot of different names. You see it on attack. If the defense breaks down, (goalie Jim) Beardmore is behind us. If he's having a bad day, we can limit the number of shots they take. If a guy is having a bad day, someone else can pick up the slack."

Edell may not have any outstanding scorers, but he does have an attack line that has produced consistently. Sophomore Brian Willard leads the team with 11 goals and one assist and linemates Pat Burke and Eric Korvin have six and five goals, respectively.

Midfielder Tony Olmert, the team's second-leading scorer with six goals and five assists, provides offensive punch from the midfield.

Defensively, Edell uses sophomore Brian Jackson, a transfer from Anne Arundel Community College, and freshman John Merrill from Syracuse, N.Y., along with Tracy, in his top unit.

Beardmore, son of former Maryland lacrosse Coach Buddy Beardmore, has performed well in goal and is part of the reason this year's team is well on its way to surpassing last year's 7-4 record.

Against North Carolina, Tracy was assigned to guard Mac Ford, the Tar Heels' all-America attackman. But because of a sore right shoulder, Tracy had trouble staying with him. Sophomore defenseman Brian Jackson took over the assignment and held Ford, who had scored 13 goals in four games, to only one.

Said Tracy: "We couldn't have done that last year."