How much does this Wednesday's clash against No. 3 Maryland mean to the No. 5 AU field hockey team? Ask Holy Cross.
Saturday the Crusaders (7-9, 2-2 Patriot League), who on paper have little business being on the same artificial surface as the Eagles (15-0, 3-0 PL), were four minutes from stealing a victory and a the PL lead. Somehow, AU escaped, 3-2, in overtime.
Yes, I know. New England weather is miserable for field hockey in the fall. Winning on the road is always tougher, even when you're the only league team above .500 overall. And Holy Cross likely played inspired stuff, knowing this could be their biggest game in '05.
But it's hard to imagine that Saturday was not at least partially a case of a team looking forward to this Wednesday's blood feud with the Terrapins.
To be fair, who could blame AU? For years the Eagles were the "other" team at College Park, Md., shuttling to daily, crack-of-dawn training sessions at the mammoth state school to circumvent Maryland's practice and game schedule.
Now, with the Terps set to visit the Jacobs Recreational Complex for the first time, the Eagles for once have the upper hand, and want to prove they can capitalize on it. And, while home PL romps are enjoyable, this has to be a game everyone in the club has circled on their calendar.
To try to wear the team's turf shoes, imagine you've just graduated, moved out, found your own job and apartment, and have asked your folks to dinner for the first time. There's the pressure to not burn the chicken, set the table properly and remember the blessing before the meal, so you can show Mom and Dad that you're no longer beneath them.
The problem is that even quantum physicists couldn't explain what heights the Terps have achieved since 1999. They won the title that year, and reached the final twice more since, while missing the Final Four once in six tries.
If you're AU, trying to best the Terps on a long-term basis is like being a Huxtable kid in the shadow of your baby-doctor father and lawyer mother.
For at least as long as there is an Infante sister involved on each side (Camila and Denise play for AU, Paula for Maryland), the two squads will be natural rivals. But AU, as a program finally budding in the sun, can't focus too much on one-upping its former landlord.
As wonderful as a Wednesday win would be, in the grand scope of things, it would mean little. Had freshman Irene Schickhardt not scored the game-tying goal in Worcester, Mass., Saturday, or had she not followed with the overtime winner 11 minutes later, it would've meant even less.
AU can be not only a dangerous team who upsets Maryland in October of 2005, but a program that is competing with the Terps and other squads for national honors every season.
But to be that program, you have to see Wednesday's game for what it is - a tough non-conference tune-up thrown into a crucial portion of league play.
I'm sure AU coach Steve Jennings has addressed and reiterated this. But Saturday's result does leave reasonable doubt to whether the players look at this as almost a mini-region championship, or just a stop on the way to a national one.
Regardless, there's always time to refocus. And with the right focus, the Eagles have an excellent chance to win Wednesday. Who knows, that could even help them host a clash against the Terps that does mean everything - one scheduled for mid-November.
Let's just pray the Crusaders don't get to the Eagles first.