COLLEGE PARK -- The word rolls off Tony Seaman's lips, and then he smiles.
After a few moments of thought, he smiles some more.
"Underdog. I see us as the big underdog," said Seaman, Johns Hopkins' lacrosse coach. "The first-, second- and third-seeded teams all can win the national championship. We're the only team in the top four to lose to all three teams. It's wonderful for Johns Hopkins to be in this role for a change, especially with the schedule we play. Hopefully, we'll relax and play well."
The No. 4 Blue Jays (11-3), in the third year of Seaman's rebuilding program, can recapture some of the glory from their storied past when they meet No. 1 North Carolina (13-1) at 1 p.m. today at Byrd Stadium in the NCAA Division I lacrosse Final Four.
The Blue Jays have won seven NCAA titles, more than any other team, since the tournament began in 1971. But the most recent Johns Hopkins championship came in 1987. Since then, Syracuse and North Carolina have replaced the Blue Jays as the dominant powers.
Seaman, who replaced Don Zimmerman, guided the Blue Jays to the quarterfinals in 1991 and to the semifinals last year. Both times, Syracuse eliminated the Blue Jays.
Seaman would like to see his program take another step. Only this time, the opponent is North Carolina, which has won 13 of its past 14 games, including a 14-9 win over Hopkins on April 3.
"That was a great enlightening and awakening for us," said Seaman, who has only 10 seniors on his 38-player roster. "Our defense learned a lot from that game, and I think we have improved. The biggest key for us is shots on goal. If we're close with them on shots, it's going to be a pretty good ballgame."
It wasn't the last time, but there have been several changesince then. One of the Blue Jays' top attackmen, junior Brian Piccola (36, goals, 24 assists), missed that game with cracked ribs. Sophomore attackman Terry Riordan was slowed because of an illness. The biggest difference is that North Carolina no longer has goalie Billy Daye, an All-America contender. Daye fractured the sixth vertebra in his neck in a collision in the first Carolina-Hopkins game while trying to check Riordan. Gary Lehrman continues to substitute for Daye, who hasn't received the medical OK to return.
"Carolina has the strongest team, but the weakest position -- goalie," said Loyola coach Dave Cottle, whose Greyhounds played all four teams. "When they lost their regular goalie, Billy Daye, that really hurt them. Their goalie now, Gary Lehrman, is not as good. The way Hopkins shoots, that could be a huge problem for Carolina."
That makes the matchup between North Carolina defensemen Alex Martin and Greg Paradine against Riordan (46, 18) and Piccola more interesting.
Johns Hopkins also has to out-hustle the Tar Heels on ground balls and slow their midfield, especially Ryan Wade (24, 23).
Princeton, the defending national champion, also will try to slow it down against Syracuse. The two have contrasting styles. North Carolina coach Dave Klarmann describes Syracuse's style as "controlled" chaos. Translation: run and gun. Princeton has a deliberate offense, and the Tigers don't gamble on checks.
"The team that dictates the tempo will control the game," said Bill Tierney, Princeton's coach. "A high-scoring game favors them. A low-scoring game favors us. The first quarter will be very important.
The game is expected to be almost as tight as last year's double-overtime championship game in which Princeton defeated the Orangemen, 10-9.
Syracuse players clearly remember the loss.
"We had the first four shots in the overtime periods," said Syracuse's Matt Riter, a senior attackman. "I shot wide right. Another went wide. The goalie made great saves on the other two, including one that hit him in the head. It took me to the middle of the summer to get over that game."
Princeton players are out to prove that last year's championship was no fluke and that Princeton should be mentioned with North Carolina and Syracuse as the game's elite.
Syracuse players believe they should win the national championship every year. "Every team should have our attitude," Riter said. "If we don't . . . make it to the Final Four, title game or win the championship, then there are some major malfunctions somewhere in the program."
"This is about respect," said David Morrow, Princeton's senior defenseman.