When No. 10 Johns Hopkins hosts No. 14 Virginia on Saturday, the teams will be in unfamiliar territory. Usually a meeting between two of the sport's titans, this game will feature their lowest combined rankings since the first lacrosse poll was created in 1973.
The Blue Jays and Cavs are a combined 10-5, with just one victory over a team currently in the top 20.
"I don't think it's a 'must-win' or panic situation because you have to be careful about putting all your eggs in one basket, and there is a ton of lacrosse left to play," said Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala. "That being said, there will be a sense of urgency because these are two proud groups that want to get that signature win and understand the situation."
Virginia head coach Dom Starsia doesn't think the lower rankings will take away from the game's intensity.
"We would both prefer to be in a better spot right now," he said. "Even though it's still March, there will be a certain edginess to this one that will be different from most years."
The Cavaliers could very easily be in a much better position. All three of their losses are one-goal defeats against top 10 opponents: Syracuse, Cornell and Ohio State.
"It's about just making a play," Starsia said. "I often tell the players that there is no 'deserve' in sports, there is only 'do.' When you play a one-goal game, everything is magnified, and at the end of the day we have to be better, we have to be smarter and we have to be tougher."
Many wondered who would emerge as an offensive threat for Virginia after Steele Stanwick, the 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner, graduated. The early answer is junior Mark Cockerton, who has scored 23 goals.
"He is playing with more confidence this year," Starsia said. "Last year with Steele, Chris Bocklet and Colin Briggs, maybe Mark didn't want to mess things up. Now, he knows he has a little bit more leeway and responsibility."
While the Virginia coaching staff knew 2013 would mean life without Stanwick, it did not expect to also be without Chris LaPierre. The preseason first-team All-American midfielder was officially shut down for the season this week with a right knee injury suffered last month.
"There is a reason he is the first sole captain I've ever had," Starsia said of LaPierre. "When you look at all that he does for us, it's not a stretch to say he's worth a goal a game.
"The biggest thing is that charismatic leadership. Now, when I might be seeing some blank stares in the huddle, that's when Chris LaPierre would stand up and say, 'Watch me.'"
Pietramala understands what the loss means for the Cavs.
"You had to account for him on the wings of the face-off," the Blue Jays' coach said. "And then he was a bear with the ball, or going from defense to offense. So they are different without No. 44."
Lacrosse players don't go to Virginia expecting to lose three out of four games, nor to be ranked No. 14. But Starsia doesn't sense a loss of confidence.
"I think the players are frustrated, we're all frustrated," he said. "But we're not throwing the baby out with the bath water. We know we're capable of winning, so mentally, we are OK. We just have to turn that into a performance on Saturday."