The Chesapeake Bayhawks' 15-14 overtime loss to the previously winless Boston Cannons on May 18 has lingered on Dave Cottle's mind for the past two weeks.
And for the Bayhawks' coach, that's long enough. Because Major League Lacrosse teams don't play on Memorial Day weekend, Cottle's squad has waited 13 days between games after what he called a disappointing loss in Boston.
So when the Bayhawks (3-1) host the Hamilton Nationals (4-0) Saturday night, not only will they get to test themselves against one of two undefeated teams left in the league, they'll also finally have the chance to erase the one-goal loss to the Cannons from their memory.
"No matter how long you've been coaching, the losses eat you alive," Cottle said Wednesday. "Our guys are competitive guys, they know what it's about."
Though Cottle has been eager to return to the field, he's not concerned that his players have lost focus. Plus, the long break has given Chesapeake time to prepare for one of the league's most potent attacks.
With 56 goals this season, Hamilton ranks second behind Denver — the other unbeaten squad — and Nationals midfielder Kevin Crowley leads MLL with 20 points through four games.
Chesapeake hasn't publicly said who will defend Crowley, but defender Nicky Polanco thinks he or any of his teammates would be up to the task.
"Us being a veteran team, we know who [Crowley] is and how he plays," Polanco said. "The way we see it, anybody on our defense can guard anybody else."
But Cottle thinks Hamilton's most important player isn't even on offense. A seven-time All-MLL team member, Nationals longstick midfielder Brodie Merrill is like a "coach on the field," Cottle said.
Merrill has been foiling Cottle's offenses since the 2005 All-American was at Georgetown, causing fits for the coach's Maryland team.
""If there is a club membership of coaches in this league who have been hurt by Brodie Merrill, then I would be one of many," Cottle said. "He's an elite player. He will make plays. We just have to cut them down."
In the midst of praising Merrill and the rest of the Nationals, Cottle still points out that "our guys are pretty good, too."
The defending champion Bayhawks have nine different players who have scored at least seven points through four games this season, led by Ben Rubeor's 15. By comparison, Hamilton has four different players who have at least seven points this season.
"They have a lot of talented midfielders that are proven outside shooters and a group of attackmen that can score in a variety of ways," Nationals coach Dave Huntley said of the Bayhawks.
Chesapeake's balance seems to contrast with Hamilton's reliance on several stars: Crowley and former Maryland midfielder Joe Walters (12 points) on offense and Merrill on defense.
It represents an intriguing start to a vital stretch for Chesapeake. Their next three opponents — Hamilton, New York and Denver — are a combined 10-2 this season.
"After this three-game stretch, we will have a great idea of who we are and where we are going," Cottle said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Polanco's excited to hit the field, too. After all, Cottle isn't the only one who has had a rough two weeks after the Bayhawks' pitfall in Boston.
"A loss is tough, especially that one being so close," Polanco said. "Because we were off, it sat with me a little longer than usual. But now we're moving forward. We're 100 percent focused on Hamilton."