Loyola, a team that was so overlooked in the preseason that it went unranked in several publications, and Maryland, a squad that was unceremoniously dropped to the ranks of the unseeded after dropping its regular-season finale to Colgate, will tangle Monday at Gillette Stadium here for the national championship.
And players from both sides are using any and every slight as motivation.
"We've been playing with a chip on our shoulder all season," junior short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins said during the top-seeded Greyhounds' news conference Sunday. "Even being the No. 1 seed in the tournament, we've had doubters and haven't been expected to win the games that we have. I think going into Monday, it doesn't really matter. We're here to win the national championship. That's our plan, and that's what we came here for."
Said Terps senior midfielder Drew Snider: "The whole unseeded thing, yeah, it definitely gives us a chip. I think just drawing from last year and coming so close and coming up a little short, I think that makes us play with a little more emotion as well."
Both teams will have a lot at stake as Monday's 1 p.m. faceoff looms. Maryland (12-5) is seeking its third NCAA crown, but its first since 1975. Since then, the Terps have lost in six tournament finals.
Maryland advanced to last year's title game as an unseeded team before falling to No. 7 seed Virginia, 9-7. That squad bade farewell to 22 seniors and dealt with a number of personnel questions.
After three seasons at midfield, senior Joe Cummings, a Baltimore native, had to return to attack, which he had played in high school at Loyola. The offense also had to integrate a pair of high-profile transfers in redshirt sophomore midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (Princeton) and junior attackman Billy Gribbin (Penn State), and the defense started three new close defensemen in sophomores Michael Ehrhardt and Brian Cooper and freshman Goran Murray.
But there are a number of players who played quality minutes in last year's final, and sophomore goalkeeper Niko Amato said that experience should be vital for Monday's contest.
"I think the experience factor is helpful from last year," he said. "But the most helpful part of being in the same situation as last year is the days in between the games and the times leading up to the faceoff because you really want to try to manage your emotions and not spend too much energy before the game. Just kind of peak at the right time. Just like in games like [Saturday] night against Duke, you saw how frantic it was in the opening whistle. Being in this game last year kind of helped me settle in and calm my nerves a little bit and help manage some of the younger guys on the defense."
Loyola (17-1) has never claimed a national championship. The Greyhounds fell to Syracuse, 21-9, in 1990 — the program's lone appearance in an NCAA Division I title game.
The Greyhounds' only loss of the season occurred at the hands of Johns Hopkins, a 10-9 decision in overtime in the team's 13th game of the year. But rather than stew about losing out on an opportunity to become the 13th team to complete a perfect campaign, fifth-year senior attackman Eric Lusby said the loss unburdened Loyola.
"The loss to Hopkins was definitely a learning experience for the team," said Lusby, a Severna Park graduate. "We had to learn from the tape, learn from our mistakes. … Just using what we learned from that game and relaying it into practice and into the playoffs and making this run, it's been great. I feel like it definitely helped us get that monkey off our back from going undefeated. You don't really have to worry about all the pressure of being an undefeated team. So from that aspect, it was definitely nice to get that loss out of the way."
With just one day between Saturday's semifinals and Monday's final, neither team will get much time to compile a thorough scouting report. Sunday's practices were basically walkthroughs to get the players moving and rest their legs, but Cummings summed up the sentiment on both sides when he said Maryland's first priority is focusing on itself.
"Coach [John Tillman] has done a great job of talking to us about trying to make our world smaller and just focusing solely on the game, focusing solely on our opponent and not trying to make it bigger than it is," he said. "That way, we can play within ourselves, focus on what we need to do in order to win and have fun and enjoy being with our teammates and having an opportunity, again, to compete."