By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — This is Julie Myers’ 15th season as head coach of a Division I lacrosse program. For Dom Starsia, this is his 28th season.
Between them, they’ve won four NCAA titles and more than 500 games, and they’ve dealt with many crises.
Nothing, however, prepared these close friends for the events of the past eight days, starting with the death of Yeardley Love, a member of Myers’ team at UVa.
Police have charged George Huguely, a member of Starsia’s team at UVa, with Love’s murder.
“The last week has been one that’s just been unnerving for so many people, not only the Love family and our team, but for so many people around the country,” Myers said Monday afternoon.
“Tragic on so many levels,” Starsia said Sunday night.
When he met with his players last Monday, Starsia recalled, “one of the first things I said to the kids was, ‘There’s just no road map for us right here now. We’ve never been through any other circumstance that begins to be like this.’ “
Since Love’s death, Myers said, support has poured in: from college coaches, from UVa alumni, from the lacrosse community, from people with no ties to the sport or the University.
“We’ve heard from parents who have lost children in similar ways,” Myers said. “Certainly reading through some of those e-mails and kind of picking through them for pieces of advice has been very helpful for us, but it is uncharted territory.
“Every day we hope that we’re doing the right thing. But with every decision we make we keep our team in our mind and the Love family in our heart … And that’s kind of been our road map. Staying together has to be at the core of it.”
The players and coaches on each team, Starsia said, recognize that it’s important “to try to be together, to get back out there doing the things that you love to do, just so that your life can begin to move toward some sense of normalcy. I’m not sure that that ever completely happens, but at least you begin to move in that direction.”
And so, with their respective NCAA tournaments looming, UVa’s lacrosse teams have resumed familiar routines, however tentatively.
“It’s a slow, careful process,” Starsia said, “and we’re just taking it in small pieces.”
Starsia’s team, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament, hosts Mount St. Mary’s in a first-round game Saturday night at Klöckner Stadium. Myers’ club, seeded No. 6 in the women’s field, will face Towson on the same field Sunday afternoon.
Last Monday, it wasn’t clear if either team would compete in the NCAAs. Myers wasn’t sure if her players would want to go on without their beloved teammate. Starsia didn’t know if his players would want to continue their season under such circumstances, or if they would have the blessing of Miss Love’s family or the women’s team — and the University — to do so.
“But Tuesday, I was in Julie Myers’ office, and we were talking and just kind of going through some things,” Starsia recalled. “I asked her what they were going to do, and she gave me kind of a surprised look and said, ‘We’re playing.’
“And I said, ‘Well, that’s good to hear.’ I personally felt like it was helpful for the women to make a decision before we did anything. And she said, ‘Hey, Dom, we want you guys to play.’ “
Myers said: “This was obviously a horrific event, and it connects our teams, but I don’t think that the Love family had any expectation or desire for either one of the programs to stop playing. Again, on our team, lacrosse brought us together, and lacrosse is their common theme, too, on the men’s side. And the fact that they can keep playing as they try to make sense of it and sort through their own mourning process, I think it can be really helpful.”
Starsia said: “I think both teams are in a great deal of pain. Both teams are trying to sort this out as best as they can.”
The bond between the teams is strong, as was evident Saturday in Baltimore. At the request of Miss Love’s family, several of Starsia’s players served as pallbearers at the funeral service.
“We’ve always been connected,” Myers, a former UVa player, said of the programs.
“Lots of our former players have married [former Virginia men’s players]. We’ve got brothers and sisters that have played in the programs, we’ve got cousins and best friends. So I know that our teams and programs have always been close.”
After the funeral Saturday, Myers’ team remained in the Baltimore/Washington area, and many of her players got to sleep at their homes. The next day, with a large group of former players present, the Wahoos practiced at Miss Love’s high school, Notre Dame Prep, before heading home to Charlottesville.
In terms of “returning to normalcy,” Myers said, “it’s never going to be totally the same, especially right off the bat here. We’re going to do things not for Yeardley, but in honor of Yeardley, because I think that just helps a natural flow happen a little bit easier.
“But really we don’t have any grand plan. We don’t have any long-term outlook on anything. All we know is we really feel an incredible desire and need to stay together.”
There’s no timetable for the healing process that her team has begun, but Myers said the ‘Hoos are “ahead of where we ever thought possible, and I give a lot of that credit to the way that Yeardley was and the way that everyone remembers her. But also to the Love family and the atmosphere and environment they’ve created over this past week for all of us.”
Miss Love’s survivors include her sister, Lexie, and their mother, Sharon.
“We’ve had many opportunities to be together as a team,” Myers said, “and each one of them has been full of emotion. But at the end of each meeting we have felt a step closer to Yeardley and the Love family, and a step closer towards trying to make sense of this and towards our healing.”
A win over Towson would clinch a spot for UVa in the NCAA quarterfinals. More important, Myers said, it would keep her grieving players together for at least one more week this spring. It would also give them another opportunity to honor the memory of a young woman whose passing has shaken the University community.
“I can’t really sum Yeardley up in just one story or in a moment,” Myers said. “But I can tell you that she’s been one of the most consistently kind people that I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never heard any jealousy or envy or any judging ever come out of her mouth.
“And I would say that the Love family shares that. It wasn’t by accident that Yeardley was as sweet and kind as she was. In getting to know Sharon and Lexie, [it’s clear] the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They all have something very special, and they have hope and they have promise and they have love.”