By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Thunderstorms wiped out their scheduled practice, but the members of the UVa women’s lacrosse team met anyway Wednesday.
It was time well spent, Virginia coach Julie Myers said.
“We got a chance to collect ourselves and talk about the weekend and where we are,” Myers said Thursday.
Ten days have passed since the tragic death of senior defender Yeardley Love, and her teammates have only begun to recover. But the NCAA tournament starts this weekend, and the Cavaliers, while still grieving, are preparing for their opener at Klöckner Stadium.
No. 6 seed UVa (13-5) hosts Towson (13-4) at noon Sunday. ESPNU will televise the game.
Between final exams, Myers’ players practiced Monday and Tuesday. What the Wahoos’ 15th-year coach saw encouraged her.
“With everything we’ve done, with every drill and every set and every running challenge at the end of practice, I think they’ve gotten stronger,” Myers said. “They definitely have purpose, definitely have a desire to be prepared on Sunday.”
Even before the events of last week, Myers knew she’d be heading into the NCAAs with less than a full complement of players. During the regular season, the ‘Hoos lost three starters to serious knee injuries: attackers Ainsley Baker and Josie Owen and, most recently, defender Bailey Fogarty.
“Right now an ACL does not seem like that big a deal to us,” Myers said Monday. “Obviously, they’ll heal. We’ll miss them for the remainder of the season, for sure, so our lineup will continue to change.”
Baker had 15 goals and 1 assist in her nine games. Owen, who’s tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists), played in 14 games.
“We’ve been kind of plugging the holes for awhile,” Myers said.
With Fogarty sidelined, Myers said, Love would have started against Towson. If Molly McClintic is healthy, the junior from Charlottesville could take over that role Sunday. Other options include moving Anne Thomas and Julie Gardner to new spots in the lineup.
“We do have a lot of holes,” Myers said Thursday, “but we have a lot of heart and we have a lot of spirit and we have a lot of purpose, and I think that’ll help us.”
On a teleconference Monday, Myers talked about the challenge facing her team as it returns to the field. This will not, she knows, be a typical game.
“Obviously we’ve heard from lots and lots of people from around the East Coast in particular, saying they’re going to make sure they get to our game on Sunday,” Myers said.
“So we know that the stands will be a lot more full than what we’re probably used to, I would imagine there’s going to be more media than what we’re used to. But really our girls seemed to be focused on just the fact that they’re playing in honor of Yeardley, and again we’re just fighting for the chance to be together for another week.”
Indeed, there’s much more at stake here than a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals. If the ‘Hoos lose Sunday, Myers noted, “then that’s it. We’re two weeks into healing and mourning and figuring this out and trying to feel OK, then all of the sudden we’d go a million different directions. So I think our desire to stay together is helping us focus to get back to normal as much as we can.”
At Klöckner, the large majority of the fans will be pulling for UVa. Around the country, the Cavaliers will have countless more supporters.
“I look at people rooting for us and wanting us to do well as a real positive,” Myers said. “I don’t look at that as pressure as much as, ‘How great is it that people want to see us to do well?’
“Again, our real main focus is, ‘Let’s do it right, let’s do it the way that Yeards would want us to do it, and let’s keep playing.’ Because I know the Love family wants to see us keep playing as well.”