The Maryland men's lacrosse team is trying to stay above the fray.
While analysts and the team's supporters have questioned the NCAA selection committee's decision to leave the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions out of the top-eight seeds, the Terps have stayed focused on the task at hand.
In fact, senior defenseman Max Schmidt said Maryland is eager to meet No. 8 seed North Carolina in an NCAA tournament first-round contest in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"With a team like UNC, you really can't get tired of playing them," Schmidt said. "It's one of the biggest rivalries in lacrosse. It's an ACC school and an extremely competitive game no matter how many times you play them — if it's three or 93 [times]. Both teams bring heat every time we meet each other, and I think we're really excited for the opportunity to play them. You could play a lower-grade team or a higher-grade, and we have the opportunity to play a higher-grade team and an opportunity to shine on the big stage. So we're excited for it, and we're preparing for them this week."
Many Terps players understand that their 10-8 loss to Colgate in the regular-season finale at home on May 7 likely cost them one of the eight seeds and the right to host a first-round game at Byrd Stadium.
But that doesn't mean that the Terps (10-4) have accepted the committee's opinion of them.
"We're kind of using that as motivation because at the end of the day, we're still the ACC champs, but we did have a little fumble in our last game of the year," senior attackman Ryan Young said. "We're not upset about where we are, but we're just trying to prove everybody wrong."
In the Tar Heels (10-5), Maryland gets a familiar opponent as Sunday's game will be the third time this season these rivals will have tangled. CBS Sports Network analyst and 2007 Tewaaraton Award winner Matt Danowski said the players have probably buried any angst about meeting for the third time this season.
"I think you have no choice but to not worry about it," he said. "At this point, you've got to play whom the committee puts you in front of. But from the outside looking in, it just seems that they were going to meet somebody familiar in either the first round or the quarterfinals. That's just the way it is in the ACC. Because of how close everybody is and the fact that they're knocking each other out during the regular season, it always ends up that eventually they will see each other again in the first round or the quarterfinals."
The Terps and North Carolina split the first two meetings. Maryland squandered a 4-0 advantage in the first quarter, and the Tar Heels scored an 11-6 victory in College Park on March 26.
In the semifinal round of the ACC tournament, the Terps returned the favor, overcoming a 6-2 deficit after the third quarter to edge North Carolina, 7-6, on April 22.
Having played two games already, there likely won't be much subterfuge to Sunday's game. Both sides are quite familiar with each other's personnel and schemes, and Maryland coach John Tillman noted that there's a temptation to re-tool with some part of the team in an effort to unveil a different wrinkle against the Tar Heels.
"The good news is, we have a little bit of familiarity with them. Conversely, they have a little bit of familiarity with us," he said. "So I think you kind of have to sit down and think, 'Do we change some things so that maybe we can throw something new at them? Or do we stick with what we do and what we have done and try to stick with the kids being a bit more comfortable?' I think you have to sit down as a staff and figure out which way you want to take this."
According to Young, the playbooks can stay unopened. The players know what's at stake on Sunday, and that desire to stay alive in the push for a national title will dictate play, Young said.
"Since it's a grudge match, we're not going to have to worry about schemes or anything," he said. "We're just going to have to worry about us versus them. They're a big rival, and it's kind of exciting that we get to play an ACC rival in the first round and a very good one, too."