When Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia come to M&T; Bank Stadium on Saturday to form the inaugural Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic, the lords of Division I men's lacrosse will be on display. Each of these schools has owned every NCAA championship since 1992.
And suddenly, after a week of early-season upsets underscoring the growing parity in the sport, most of these blue bloods have an added reason to get out of downtown Baltimore with a win.
Who would have thought Hopkins, Syracuse and Virginia would be entering March already trying to avoid a second loss, after each school went down at home against an unranked opponent? Drexel fired the first salvo Feb. 18 by coming from behind in the final seconds to stun then-No. 1 Virginia, 11-10. That was the first loss since 2005 for the defending national champions.
Five days later, top-ranked Syracuse, a week after needing a late rally to avert a season-opening loss against Hobart, dropped an 8-6 decision to Army, which beat the Orange at home for the first time in 35 years.
Then, on Saturday, came then-No. 2 Johns Hopkins' 8-7, first-ever loss to Albany. The Blue Jays, who have never dropped two in a row in the same season under seventh-year coach Dave Pietramala, are trying to avert their first 0-2 start since 1971.
"The lacrosse world is rotating, isn't it?" said Princeton coach Bill Tierney, whose 1-0 Tigers took care of visiting Canisius, 18-7, in Saturday's season opener.
"Had it been the norm, you'd be looking [this weekend] at four undefeated teams and whatever two teams win, fine. These are still the best four teams, and we move on. All of a sudden, there's a lot of questions, the plot thickens and things aren't normal."
Not even last week's win by Princeton - the new No. 1 team - was typical. Canisius, a member of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, shot the ball only nine times on returning NCAA Goalie of the Year Alex Hewit in the first half, yet trailed at halftime by a respectable 10-5 count.
"It's not a fluke this is happening," said Pietramala, alluding to the ever-expanding high school talent base that continues to feed 56 programs that constitute Division I. That's nearly the same number of Division I men's lacrosse schools as a decade ago.
Hopkins, which has been to 35 straight NCAA tournaments, has avoided the poor starts that have hurt this weekend's other three participants in recent years.
A year ago, Syracuse started 1-4 before regrouping and making it to its 23rd final four in 24 seasons. In 2005, Princeton lost its first five and failed to make the NCAAs. In 2004, Virginia defended its national title by starting 1-4 and finishing 5-8.
Villa Julie's shocker
Parity also is asserting itself at the Division III level, where unranked Villa Julie - opening its third season under coach Paul Cantabene - shocked visiting, defending NCAA champion Cortland on Saturday, 10-9.
The Mustangs, who got three goals from midfielder Nicola Bevacqua, three points from attackman Andrew White (Loyola) and a 15-save effort from Jason Woodford (Dulaney), jumped to a 3-0 lead. They erased a 6-5 second-half deficit with another 3-0 run.
Now, Cantabene is trying to bring Villa Julie back to earth. The Mustangs open their Capital Athletic Conference schedule today against Marymount.
"You try to tell the kids you're only as good as your last game," he said. "You can't look ahead, you can't look at rankings, you've just got to get ready to play again."
Tar Heel blues
Could this be the year North Carolina finally regains some stature? The Tar Heels, whose 4-10 finish in 2006 eclipsed their 5-8 stumble a year earlier as their worst season since 1967, are 3-0, their best start since 2002.
No. 16 Carolina, which has been to one NCAA tournament under seven-year coach John Haus, will find out more about itself Friday night at No. 9 Navy.
Inside Lacrosse Face-off Classic
What -- Inaugural doubleheader featuring the four schools that have won every Division I men's lacrosse title since 1992
Matchups -- Johns Hopkins vs. Princeton, followed by Virginia vs. Syracuse
When -- Saturday - Game 1, noon; Game 2, 2:30 p.m.
Where -- M&T; Bank Stadium
Tickets -- $15 for lower reserved seat, $25 for club level, $10 for groups of 10 or more
Ticket count -- More than 13,000 have been sold
To purchase -- Call 410-261-RAVE or go online to ticketmaster.com