After missing the Patriot League tournament for the first time since joining the league for the 2004 season, Navy’s mission was simple and straightforward: begin a new tradition of qualifying for the tournament.
The Midshipmen are one win away from accomplishing that goal. With a win over longtime rival and No. 17 Army on Saturday, No. 20 Navy (5-5 overall and 3-2 in the conference) will ensure itself of finishing in the top four and earning a spot in the tournament.
It’s a prize that the players are fully aware of, coach Rick Sowell said.
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“Without us talking about it, our guys know that it’s a big game,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “The fact that the winner gets into the playoffs adds more to it. I’m just not sure how much more we can add to it that isn’t already there. So for us, the focus is on just trying to prepare for the game. We need to play 60 minutes on Saturday, and knowing that it’s Army, that has our full and complete attention. At this point, we’re just focusing in on what we need to do to win the game. We haven’t talked about the other implications of the game, but that being said, our players know. They don’t need me to constantly remind them. We know the opportunity that we have here.”
If the Midshipmen lose to the Black Knights (5-6, 2-2), not only would it be their fourth consecutive loss to Army – which would be Navy’s longest losing skid in their all-time series – but the Black Knights would guarantee themselves a berth in the tournament.
The Midshipmen would need No. 15 Colgate (9-2, 3-1), No. 16 Lehigh (10-2, 3-1) or No. 18 Bucknell (9-4, 3-1) to falter down the stretch. But leaving their fate in the hands of others is an outcome Sowell would rather avoid.
“Once we beat Colgate to get that third win in our league, we knew that things were going to be in our control,” he said. “We’re excited to be playing in a big game this late in the season, and it just happens to be Army. It’s enough to know that we’re going to have their complete attention as we try to get ready for the game on Saturday.”