It seemed only fitting that Stevenson and Salisbury would play each other at the end of the same week they earned No. 1 and No. 2 rankings in the country, respectively.
When it comes to men's lacrosse, they don't like each other. There are other quality games in the area this weekend, as No. 12 Johns Hopkins hosts No. 3 North Carolina and top-ranked Virginia travels to No. 5 Maryland, but the best will be played in Owings Mills.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, one of the newest and fiercest rivalries in the sport is renewed when No. 1 Stevenson (9-0 overall, 1-0 Capital Athletic Conference) hosts second-ranked Salisbury (10-0, 1-0 CAA). Last year, Stevenson beat Salisbury in two out of three games, including an NCAA Division III quarterfinal game.
The game promises to be intense and emotional. There will be a lot of chirping among the players, and the head coaches aren't exactly good friends, either.
"When I see him out recruiting, I say hello," Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said. "We have a professional relationship."
Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene said: "I would say we respect each other. We don't have a lot of long conversations. I think early on, he [Berkman] respected what we did, but I'm not sure he likes what we do now because we're infringing on his territory. I'd probably be the same way. We're the new kid on the block, taking some things away from them. Maybe he likes that. Maybe he doesn't."
Salisbury is indeed one of the giants of lacrosse, like Syracuse and Hopkins. In 21 years at the school, Berkman has guided the Sea Gulls to 21 NCAA tournaments, eight national championships and a 337-34 overall record.
Conversely, Stevenson has had a program only since 1994, and Cantabene is in only in his sixth year. He has a 69-25 record, and the Mustangs have appeared at No. 1 three times in the past two years. Stevenson made its first NCAA postseason appearance a year ago.
Now, there are two giants in Maryland in Division III.
"This just makes for another great game," Berkman said. "For years, the rap on our conference was that we were a one-team conference, and now we're a conference that has the top two teams in the country."
"I'm not surprised by the success at Stevenson. One, it's a relatively inexpensive private school. Two, it's in an area like Cortland [N.Y.,] where a lot of kids can go try to play at D-I schools, and if it doesn't work, they can come back home. Number 3, their admissions gives them some advantages to get some kids in, and you put that together with a coach like Paul who works hard, you're going to have success."
Actually, Salisbury has had similar players in the past, ones who had struggled academically and some who were older than most college students. According to Cantabene, the difference between the typical player at the schools is that Salisbury gets more polished players as opposed to the blue-collar ones at Stevenson. And Stevenson is only going to get bigger and stronger, because there is a push for more males at the formerly all-female school.
Regardless of any differences, their recent results are similar.
"Our focus has always been on how are we going to play them, how are we going to beat them, how do we recruit with them," Cantabene said. "It was well-deserved because they had won so many championships. Now that we have gotten a chance to beat them two of the past three times, that aura about them for us is gone. If we play well, we know we can beat them."
Both teams have to bring their A-games. The Mustangs are led by attackmen Steve Kazimer (24 goals, 23 assists), Richie Ford (23, 19) and Jimmy Dailey (21, 16).
This is the third year together for the trio.
"This is a very experienced attack, and they've been around the block a few times," Berkman said. "It's not like we don't know them. It's not like you're going to stop them, but you try to limit them."
Cantabene knows all about Salisbury sophomore midfielder Sam Bradman, who has 33 goals and 15 assists this season. The Mustangs also have to slow the Sea Gulls' Ryan Finch, who has won 101 of 162 faceoffs.
Another advantage for Salisbury is that it has already played and won two one-goal games.
"The thing that concerns me the most is Bradman," Cantabene said. "He's the guy we've got to control. He scares us because we're not sure we can match up with him. If he takes over the game, it could be a long day because he is very athletic and shoots so well."
It will be a well-played game, and at some point the head coaches will exchange a few words and some glares. The X-factor will be the goalkeeping, and the outcome most likely will be decided by one or two goals.
"I don't know if this sport was meant to have a three-game series," Berkman said of last season. "Every time we played, it got more intense, more emotional."
That won't change Saturday.
"Every time we play each other, there is something on the line," Cantabene said. "Last year, it was to see who would remain unbeaten during the regular season, then it was for the conference championship and then it was for the playoffs."
Now, it's for No. 1.