By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The sight moved Lexie Love to tears Sunday afternoon. She wasn’t the only one suddenly overcome with emotion.
The scoreboard at Klöckner Stadium read UVa 14, Towson 12, and the clock showed all zeroes. But the eyes of most people in the stadium — and of viewers watching the ESPNU telecast of this NCAA tournament first-round game — were trained elsewhere about 2:15 p.m.
Huddled together on the field, members of the Virginia women’s lacrosse team had turned to face the stands. In triumph, each raised a white sign on which was depicted a large 1 — the number Yeardley Love wore for the Wahoos before her life ended tragically May 3.
The crowd of 2,270 included Miss Love’s sister, Lexie, and their mother, Sharon. And the Loves, accompanied by UVa president John Casteen, were among the first to see the No. 1 signs, a poignant tribute engineered by assistant coach Colleen Shearer, unbeknownst to most others in the program until after the game.
“It was emotional,” Cavaliers head coach Julie Myers said. “We were happy, we were exhausted, we were proud, and we were sad. So it was all kinds of everything. And then to see the Loves, and to be able to show the 1s to the stands and the hill …”
Myers paused before resuming. “I don’t think we’ve ever had Klöckner that full,” she said. “So I thought it was extra special that Colleen had taken the step to think of that.”
The game was the Cavaliers’ first since Miss Love’s death. More than that, it was celebration of the life of this vibrant young woman from the Baltimore area.
On the backs of the UVa players’ warmup shirts was this message:
Before the game, Miss Love’s memory was honored with a moment of silence.
During the game, Towson players wore orange armbands with the inititals Y.L. on them. Virginia players wore black patches with LOVE on them in white letters.
Afterward, the Tigers presented each Virginia player with a pin that showed an angel with a lacrosse stick.
“We just wanted to support UVa as much as possible,” Towson senior Jacie Kendall said.
Virginia senior Kaitlin Duff said: “Obviously this is a really hard time, but so many people have reached out to us, so many different teams and different people. And I just think seeing everyone being so positive and so nice really helps our team and helps us get stronger.”
Among those on hand to offer support Sunday were UVa men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, his staff and his players.
They had plenty of company in the stands, and the crowd was in full voice all afternoon. Whenever the team’s energy flagged, the fans’ cheers and chants helped revive Myers’ players.
“It was a special feeling out there,” she said.
The feeling lingered long after the final second ticked off the clock. Myers came to the sideline and hugged the Loves, and the rest of the team followed suit.
“After the game we talked to [Sharon Love],” Duff said, “and she said she wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Just seeing her strength, seeing her and Lexie doing well, it means so much.”
Virginia (14-5) opened the game with a flourish, scoring 12 seconds in. The Cavaliers’ lead quickly grew to 3-0, but the Tigers (13-5) battled back. At halftime, UVa’s lead was only one, and with 9:27 remaining Towson scored to pull to 11-11.
That was about when the Loves moved from the stands to spots near the UVa sideline, and “when they came down and I saw them kind of walking up behind our team, I felt like we were going to suddenly be OK,” Myers said.
“I felt like they were going to be kind of like our extra emotion on the side. And then of course we end up winning it by two. I felt like their presence was definitely felt. I get a lot of my strength from my team, and I get a lot of my strength, in terms of just trying to figure out the next step, from the Love family. So to see them here was huge. I saw them on the big screen at one point during the game. I saw them cheering and enjoying it, and that also gave me a sense of peace and hopefulness.”
One of Miss Love’s classmates, midfielder Brittany Kalkstein, put UVa ahead for good with a goal at the 8:26 mark. Another senior, Caity Whiteley, scored to make it 13-11 with 3:54 left. Kendall answered for Towson to make it 13-12, but sophomore Charlie Finnigan’s goal with 1:58 to play sealed the victory for Virginia.
Duff and Kalkstein had 4 goals and 5 assists between them, and redshirt junior Lauren Benner sparkled in goal after intermission. Whiteley, who lived with Miss Love, finished with 3 goals and 1 assist.
“I wanted to have a good game no matter what, to help my team,” Whiteley said. “But I wanted to play especially well just to honor her, and her family was there.
“For me it’s been really hard, but I don’t know where I’d be without my team and all my close friends. So playing today, I thought, meant a lot. It’s obviously not normal, but I feel like every day, together we’re getting stronger and figuring out what we need from each other. So today was good. The next step.”
Sixth-seeded Virginia advances to take on No. 3 seed North Carolina (16-2) in the NCAA quarterfinals. The ACC rivals will play Saturday or Sunday in Chapel Hill. In their regular-season meeting, UVa edged UNC 13-12 in overtime March 13 in Charlottesville.
Her team’s NCAA opener Sunday “was obviously much more than just a game,” Myers said.
“Just a huge hurdle for our team to clear through. Obviously, the last couple of weeks have been unfamiliar territory, but our players, our coaches, everybody surrounding our program — and even people that aren’t attached directly to our program — have been so strong and have really helped keep us hopeful, keep us together, keep us really focused on just the right and the privilege of being able to play lacrosse and stay together as a team as we try to sort through the upcoming events.”
Myers worried aloud last week that her team would lose in the first round and “then all of the sudden go in a million different directions.” The Cavaliers’ win over Towson assures them at least another week together as they continue to heal.
“It’s huge,” Myers said. “I know I wasn’t ready to be done. I don’t think the girls were even close to being ready, either. Partly because we’re really competitive and we really love playing lacrosse, and we feel like we’re a good enough team to still be alive. But also because we still need to be together as we take these next steps.”
Kalkstein said: “I think it’s an experience that is never going to leave us. Obviously, we’re never going to forget Yeardley. I speak for myself, but I feel her presence on the field when we’re out there.
“So it’s obviously something and someone that we’re never, ever going to forget. But I think staying together and getting through each day and going out to practice gives us the strength to move on.”