COLLEGE PARK -- There is more to this game than a championship.
It's about tradition: Syracuse has won four national championships since 1981, as has North Carolina. It's about style: Both use the run-and-gun offense. It's about control: Which team has the best midfield? It's about revenge: North Carolina beat Syracuse, 14-10, on March 6.
It's about time.
No. 1 North Carolina (14-1) and No. 3 Syracuse (11-2) will play in the NCAA Division I lacrosse championship today at noon at Byrd Stadium.
One of the two teams has played in the title game every year but one since 1981, but they never have met in the final.
"I think we are the two best programs with the best athletes in the nation this year," said Dave Klarmann, the North Carolina coach. "Seeing almost every team this year, I think these are the two best teams, game in and game out."
"Syracuse, Hopkins, Carolina, Princeton -- we all want to beat each other, no matter where we play, when we play or what the conditions are," said Klarmann. "If no one were there when we were playing, it would still be a big event for us."
North Carolina won the first game between the two teams, but this is a different Syracuse team from the one that showed up in Chapel Hill two months ago.
The city of Syracuse was under a blizzard then. The Orangemen couldn't get out to practice. They couldn't run at all, much less run their fast breaks.
They collapsed on March 6.
"In the first matchup, at halftime we knew they were going to drop," said Ryan Wade, a North Carolina midfielder.
The championship could be decided by who gets tired today. This game will be like a track meet. North Carolina has been a second-half team all year, outscoring the opposition 57-28 in the third period and 65-28 in the fourth.
Syracuse hasn't been outscored by the opposition in the second half either, but the Orangemen have dominated the first half, especially in the second quarter, in which they have a 71-20 scoring advantage.
"The matchup in styles makes it pretty exciting," said Roy Simmons Jr., the Syracuse coach. "We're both pretty unpredictable, and it will be a fast-paced game, like the game should be played. We're like two Jake La Mottas, not two Sugar Rays. We'll take one to throw one. Neither of us will come out unmarked."
But one midfield group will be heralded over the other. North Carolina seems to have a more talented group overall. Tar Heels middie Kyle Durkee has a good stick, fellow middie Donnie McNichol has outstanding speed and T. J. Shimaitis plays good defense.
They complement Tar Heels midfielder Ousmane Greene and Wade, both fine shooters.
Syracuse has some of the best finishing midfielders in the game. Charlie Lockwood (19 goals, 12 assists), John Barr (15, 8) and Andy Puccia (7, 6) are on the first line. Dom Fin (20, 8), Roy Colsey (26, 3) and Mark Fietta (11, 1) run on the second group.
There isn't much of a talent drop-off.
"Our midfielders try to control the tempo and get every ground ball," said Wade. "They're more offensive- minded. It will be interesting to see how it turns out."
It will be interesting to see how North Carolina goalie Gary Lehrman handles the pressure. Lehrman played well in the Tar Heels' 16-10 semifinal win over Johns Hopkins on Saturday. He had 14 saves.
But Lehrman, filling in for the injured Billy Daye (broken neck), never has faced a team with the shooting savvy of Syracuse. The Orangemen will fire from any angle, anywhere and at any time.
"I need to play well," Lehrman said. "We're a second-half team, but we've got to stay with these guys in the first half. Obviously, our defense has to play well."
Klarmann, though, says his team has some shooters, too.
"We've been able to make some runs, too," Klarmann said. "We've won faceoff after faceoff, and we can bring it down your throats."
Simmons likes that kind of talk.
"Dave and I are just coming to watch tomorrow. We're thinking of having lunch in the press box. We'll let the kids play."