The big day is finally here (almost). The Smartlink Day of Rivals is set to face off on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Army-Navy is the first game. Johns Hopkins-Maryland is next, at 2 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised live on ESPNU.
Here is a primer on the two matchups.
Army versus Navy
When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Records: Black Knights 5-6, 1-3 Patriot League; Midshipmen 8-3, 3-2.
TV: ESPNU, live
Series record: Navy leads 56-27-3
Army sophomore G Tom Palesky and Navy senior G Tommy Phelan are similar in that each is a starting goalie with the initials 'TP' and that's about it. Palesky is 6-foot-3 and a good athlete in and out of the cage. He's from Plano, Texas, and might be the first Division I starting goalie from that state.
Phelan is 5-9, 162. He's from Loyola (Md.) in the MIAA and has seen a high level of lacrosse since his days as a ballboy at Johns Hopkins games in the late-1990s. He's the lacrosse blueblood. Palesky is the new kid on the block.
Yet, each has been effective. Palesky has seen 393 shots and has saved 62.3 percent. He has made double-digit saves in all but two games (Air Force and Virginia Military). He had 22 saves against Cornell and 18 against Hofstra.
Phelan has set a career-high in each of the past two weeks. His 15 saves at Georgetown tied the most for a Navy goalie in the series since Mickey Jarboe had 23 saves in 1999. In the following game, Phelan made 16 saves -- the most for a Navy goalie against Maryland since Jarboe had 17, also in 1999.
"Phelan is making a high number of saves that you don't usually see from Navy goalies," Army coach Joe Alberici says. "They usually don't have a high number of saves because historically they try and limit shots."
More than an Army of one
Army's defense has more to offer than Palesky. Sophomore Bill Henderson should be given a vote for the Tewaaraton Trophy: He has seen the top players up close and personal. This year, he has defended Syracuse attackman Kenny Nims, Cornell midfielder Max Seibald, Bryant attackman Zack Greer and Colgate attackman Brandon Corp, among others.
Junior Kevin Woodcheke is the crease defenseman. The third spot has been rotated between senior Scott Rosenshein and junior Sam Harrison; Rosenshein missed three games with a hamstring injury but is back in the lineup.
And freshman LSM Tim Henderson -- Bill's brother and an Under Armour All-American in 2007 -- is coming off his best game. He held Bucknell freshman MF Charlie Streep to one goal on five shots last week.
With or without Paul
Navy junior attackman Tim Paul, the team leader in goals and assists, is questionable to play after he injured his ankle early in the third quarter against Maryland last Friday. (Check back with IL.com later on Friday for an update on his injury from Navy's practice at M&T Bank Stadium.)
Paul left the Maryland game for good with his team leading 3-2. In his absence, the Midshipmen outscored Maryland 7-2. Freshman Ryan O'Leary (St. Anthony's, N.Y.) appeared to be Navy's secret weapon for that game.
After Paul went down, O'Leary entered the game on the first and second midfields. His role? Invert, i.e. go behind the goal and start the offense from there against a shortstick defender. Navy coach Richie Meade said after the game that Maryland had struggled against inverts all year, and O'Leary, a converted attackman, took advantage.
O'Leary and senior Bruce Nechanicky keyed the clinching 7-2 run. Nechanicky scored three goals in the second half, all after Paul left the game.
In Navy's defense
The Midshipmen have used a high number of starting defenders this year. The starting unit for the season opener was three seniors: Andy Tormey, Thomas Zimmerman and Jake Brosnan.
The starting unit for Maryland was Tormey, freshman Matt Vernam (Shoreham-Wading River, N.Y.) and sophomore Tom Mansfield. In between, promising sophomore Michael Hirsch started the Georgetown game but was lost for the year to a knee injury in practice last Wednesday.
Zimmerman and Brosnan have lost their starting spots, but each has found a new home: Helping to key the man-down defense.
The pressure will be on the Black Knights to control the ball and pick their spots in transition. They scored three goals in transition against Phelan and Navy in a 9-6 victory last year. Their other goals were varied: Three came from the right wing, two from the middle of the field and one from the left wing.
Overall, however, the Black Knights have not scored more than 10 goals in the series since 2003.
Johns Hopkins versus Maryland
When: Saturday, 2 p.m., M&T Bank Stadium
Records: Bue Jays 4-4, Terrapins 6-4
TV: ESPNU, live
Series record: Johns Hopkins leads, 64-37-1.
Ready for big time
Saturday's game will be the first time Hopkins and Maryland have faced each other in an NFL stadium since the 1973 NCAA final. That game was played at Franklin Field, one-time home of the Philadelphia Eagles. To prepare for that game, which was played on artificial turf, the Terrapins practiced twice on the turf at Redskins Park.
Maryland won, 10-9, in double overtime.
Speaking of Maryland's NCAA titles, a number of players from Maryland's last title team -- in 1975 -- have sons currently played Division I lacrosse. There is a chance that two of those sons will go head-to-head on Saturday.
Johns Hopkins junior attackman Chris Boland (team-high 18 goals) might face Maryland junior goalie Brian Phipps (.575 save percentage). (It is uncertain if Phipps or senior Jason Carter will start.)
Boland's father, Kevin Boland, was a teammate at Maryland with Phipps's father, Wilson Phipps, in 1976 and 1977.
Middle of nowhere
Maryland's midfielders went 0-for-12 shooting last week against Navy. The unit's only point was an assist from sophomore Travis Reed, and he is a converted attackman.
The unit's struggles have led opposing teams to focus heavily on sophomore attackman Grant Catalino (18 goals, 15 assists). Catalino is one of the most accurate shooters in D-I but, because of the attention defenses are paying him with the midfield struggling, he is 0-for-15 shooting dating from the third quarter of a victory over North Carolina on March 21.
Or, more pointedly, he has not scored a goal in 166 minutes 14 seconds. His breakout game is coming; Catalino is too good to remain without a goal much longer. Hopkins fans had better hope it does not happen Saturday.
The Blue Jays are scoring a lot of goals this year. To wit: The 15 goals against Virginia on March 28 were their most in that series since 1999. By way of comparison, Johns Hopkins scored 15 goals against the Cavaliers in 2003 -- but it took two games, not one, to get there.
The attackmen -- Boland, sophomore Kyle Wharton (17 goals, 8 assists) and junior Steven Boyle (14, 9) -- are initiating a lot of the offense after the midfield-heavy offensive approaches of recent years.
But Johns Hopkins had better not get complacent. Each of the sport's other established powers -- Syracuse, Virginia and Princeton -- has missed the NCAA tournament at least once since 2004. A loss on Saturday and a loss to Navy on April 18 would mean the Blue Jays would have to win their remaining games to finish above .500 and be eligible for the NCAA tournament.
Johns Hopkins has qualified for the tournament a record 36 consecutive years. Similarly slow starts in 2007 and 2008 were negated by the star power, and will power, of midfielders Stephen Peyser and Paul Rabil.
Can the Blue Jays continue to pull rabbits out of the hat without those two?
For more information on college lacrosse, check out Inside Lacrosse.com..