Richie Meade's stance hasn't changed.

Days after declaring that he would not diminish Saturday's rivalry game against Army at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis by musing on the contest's postseason ramifications, the Navy coach wouldn't budge.

"I know it's news for you guys and you guys like to talk about it, but we're focused on showing up on Saturday and playing the best we can against Army," Meade said Wednesday of the 2 p.m. contest. "That's what our focus is. The rest of this stuff, I have no control over it, so it's wasted energy for us to talk about it. It's not going to make us any more excited to play the game. It's not going to make the game any more important than it already is. The game kind of is what it is."

Yet the significance of Saturday's showdown between these service academies — aside from it being the 90th installment in their rich history — can't be denied.

A Midshipmen loss would seal the program's first absence from the four-team Patriot League tournament since joining the conference for the 2004 season. A win would even Navy's Patriot League record at 3-3 and keep the team in the hunt for berth in the tournament.

ESPN analyst and former Syracuse All-American midfielder Paul Carcaterra said the Midshipmen (4-7) are in a must-win proposition.

"For all intents and purposes, this is their season," he said. "It's big enough not to need any additional hype, but it's their season. They're not playing in May unless they win this game."

With two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup and another pair of freshmen serving as the starting long-stick midfielder and fourth attackmen, Navy boasts one of the younger starting lineups in Division I.

That, according to Carcaterra, might be why Meade isn't talking about the Patriot League tournament.

"I think he wants to stay really positive with this group, too, because they're so young," Carcaterra said. "This may be the youngest team out there in Division I in terms of guys getting playing time. Almost 50 percent of their scoring is coming from freshmen. That's almost unheard of in Division I lacrosse. So I think he probably wants to keep the ship afloat and stay positive."

That youthfulness has factored into the team's four one-goal losses, which have been exacerbated by an inability to avoid turnovers and maintain possessions long enough to give the offense extended looks at opponents' nets and the defense a chance to catch its breath.

Still, no one is pointing fingers or asking for sympathy.

"One thing the seniors have been trying to do is remind everyone to do their jobs and worry about what they're doing and that everyone else will have their backs by doing their own jobs," senior short-stick defensive midfielder Marty Gallagher said. "We've been trying to keep our heads up. We have had a tough season with that bunch of one-goal losses, but we've been able to keep our heads up and remember that we've got our jobs to do. That's what it comes down to."

All is not rosy with Navy's opponent. Army (7-4 overall, 2-2 in the Patriot League) has dropped back-to-back contests to conference foes Colgate and Bucknell, but a win against the Midshipmen would clinch a tournament berth for the Black Knights. A loss, and Army's destiny would be in the hands of others.

"So to say that they're more desperate than we are is not the case," Army coach Joe Alberici said. "I think we're both sitting here from a Patriot League standpoint and saying that we're both desperate for this win. But I think again — and I imagine within their program, too — it really boils down to a chance to beat us being their greatest motivation and a chance to beat them is our greatest motivation."

Another objective for the Midshipmen is avenging last year's sweep by the Black Knights, who had never defeated their rivals twice in a season.

"That's definitely motivation," Gallagher said. "That could be one reason why this year is pretty special. We don't really let things like that get to us, but it is positive energy to do our best."

And that's the single most important mission for Navy: put forth their best effort and beat Army. Everything else — the records, the Patriot League tournament and the NCAA tournament — is just flotsam, according to Meade.

"I don't think there can be any more pressure than just winning the game," he said. "That's my honest answer. We've never talked about anything here for as long as I've been here that has anything to do with the Army-Navy game except for winning the game. I think the rest of that stuff has to take care of itself once the smoke clears when the game is over. The only thing we can control is how well we play on Saturday, and we need to play well enough to be able to win the game."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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