By virtue of being just one of two undefeated men's lacrosse teams in Division I and the consensus No. 1, Loyola has taken the stage nationally. But is the program prepared to do the same in Baltimore?

That distinction has usually gone to Johns Hopkins, the perennial juggernaut that has captured nine national championships and is considered one of the sport's bluebloods.

So how significant would a win against the No. 13 Blue Jays on Saturday at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore be for the Greyhounds?

"Hopkins is a huge team when it comes to a lot of the younger kids," Loyola junior midfielder Davis Butts said . "They basically think about wanting to go to Hopkins, and putting Loyola's name out on the map right now would be beating Hopkins."

But that's not the approach that senior defenseman Dylan Grimm is taking.

"I think we've proven ourselves," he said. "We know who we are inside this locker room, and we feel we deserve the No. 1 seed [in the NCAA Tournament]. If we win, it'll be great, and I hope it will prove those people who want to watch us fall wrong. At the same time, if we lose, we're staying true to who we are, and we're just going to work harder."

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich agreed with Grimm. The former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper said the Greyhounds' wins against No. 4 Duke and three Eastern College Athletic Conference rivals in No. 15 Fairfield, No. 16 Denver and No. 20 Ohio State stand out on their own.

"Having an undefeated national championship year would not be one of the goals they set out for the year," Kessenich said . "I think their goals are to make the NCAA tournament, win the ECAC, and play on championship weekend. This game — other than beating a local, hated rival — will not define their season. Let's say they beat Johns Hopkins and lose to Denver in the first round of the ECAC and lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament . Those become defining moments. This is not a defining moment for Loyola. Their goals are more important to them than this game."

At first glance, Loyola's resume this season is equally — if not more impressive — than the Blue Jays'. The Greyhounds' 12-0 start matched the school's best opening and they are the top seed in the ECAC. They are first in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll for the first time since May 10, 1999.

Considered a lock for one of the eight seeds and a home game in the first round of the NCAA tournament , Loyola is thought to be battling with No. 3 Notre Dame (10-1) and No. 4 Duke (13-3) for the overall No. 1 seed in the postseason.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins (9-3) has lost three of its last four contests and — in some circles — is considered to be in danger of having to go on the road for a first-round contest in the NCAA tournament.

But for years, the Greyhounds — and Towson and UMBC to some extent — have played little brother to the Blue Jays, who have won the last 12 meetings in this series. That is why a victory this Saturday could be construed as a statement for Loyola.

Although Saturday's game at the 6,000-seat Ridley Athletic Complex is sold out and the program will recognize eight seniors on the roster, the team has tried to distance itself from the hoopla.

The daily grind of classes helps keep those distractions at bay, but coach Charley Toomey said the motivation to avoid the hype is internal.

"They've been able to stay above everything else," he said. "They've been able to stay above the fact that it's a game and team that has eluded us for a long time. They've been able to stay above the fact that it's Johns Hopkins. They've been able to stay above the emotion of playing a top-ranked opponent. To them, it's the next game on the schedule. So that's where I would start as a coach, and that's why we've continued to have success. They've prepared the same way week in and week out. They're not preparing for a jersey, but they're preparing for an opponent. Obviously for the university, it's a huge game. It's a sellout atmosphere here at Ridley and it's the reason we built this facility, to play games like this. It's going to be an exciting day."

That excitement could grow with a win Saturday, which would allow Loyola to record the best start in school history and give the program its first victory over the Blue Jays since 1999. That is plenty of motivation for the Greyhounds.

"Hopkins would be a very big win for us," Butts said. "We're not going into this thing, thinking, 'We've already made the tournament.' But we're looking at it as, 'We do still have to beat Hopkins,' and that's what we plan on doing."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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