Dave Pietramala and Rick Sowell, the men's lacrosse coaches at Johns Hopkins and Navy, readily agree they might have chosen different opponents to open their seasons rather than Tuesday's game between the No. 11 Midshipmen and the No. 9 Blue Jays.
Then again, the matchup of two teams that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament also gives both sides an early litmus test for their programs.
"I think an important part of it is finding out who and what and where we are, and when you play a team like Navy, you get that information," Pietramala said. "You find out what you're good at and what you're not good at, and you can build off of those things and address them very early on. … This is a great opportunity for us against a very good team, a very well-coached team, an outstanding defensive team with some talented people on the offensive end as well to figure out, 'OK, where are we right now and how much further do we have to go?' "
Sowell said his team is looking forward to the 5 p.m. game at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
"For the first game, regardless of who you're playing, you're going to be excited," Sowell said. "But a first game at Johns Hopkins, that caught our attention back in September. So that time has come and just as we can't be too focused on who's not here in terms of injuries, it's the same thing with the schedule. It is what it is, and this is Feb. 7, our first game. Our guys are champing at the bit."
Tuesday's game is an opportunity to see if either side can rebound from sudden endings.
Navy capped an 11-5 season in 2016 by upsetting No. 4 seed Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament and falling just short in an 11-10 loss to No. 5 seed Brown in the school's first quarterfinal appearance since 2008.
The Midshipmen graduated five starters in attackmen Patrick Keena and T.J. Hanzsche, midfielder Kevin Wendel, defenseman Jules Godino and goalkeeper John Connors. Those holes will be filled by yet-to-be-established players such as sophomore attackman Ryan Wade, junior attackman Dave Little, junior midfielder Ray Wardell, junior defenseman Steve Hincks (South River) and freshman goalie Ryan Kern.
Healthwise, Sowell said the team is doing well as junior short-stick defensive midfielder D.J. Plumer, who is the biggest worry, is expected to start on defense. How the new starters perform in their debut is a point of interest for Sowell.
"We've got a lot of new faces," he said. "I'll be interested to see some of the guys who have been in the program for a couple of years, this is now their time. … Those guys are moving into new roles, bigger roles, and I'm excited. I think people are going to find out just how good they are. I'm anxious to see if they along with our entire team can get off to a good start to our 2017 season."
The Blue Jays went 8-7 in 2016, but ended the season on a three-game losing streak punctuated by a 17-8 shellacking in the first round of the postseason by Brown.
Health is a concern. Junior midfielder Joel Tinney, who sat out last year for violating an NCAA rule, and sophomore attackman Kyle Marr sat out two preseason scrimmages with unspecified injuries and are considered game-time decisions. But midfielders Connor Reed, Drew Supinski, and Alex Concannon — all of whom missed all or part of 2016 due to severe knee injuries — are expected to play.
Pietramala said he is eager to see if Johns Hopkins, which graduated just two starters in attackman Ryan Brown and midfielder Holden Cattoni, can show it is ahead of last year's pace.
"What we're looking to see is a team that's improved and able to do things that maybe a year ago we weren't able to do at this time," he said. "But right now, you want to win, and you've got to play well enough to win. You only have to win by one goal, but you've got to play well enough to win."