By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For much of the weekend, about 550 miles will separate UVa’s lacrosse teams. The women play Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.; the men, Sunday on Long Island, N.Y.
From afar, though, each will be pulling for the other to advance in the NCAA tournament. These programs and their coaches have long been close, and the tragic loss of women’s player Yeardley Love has strengthened their bonds.
The teams ate dinner together Wednesday night at men’s coach Dom Starsia’s home in Ivy, and women’s coach Julie Myers said that morning that the gathering would “be a really nice energy lift and emotional pickup to us.”
The women’s team is trying to replenish its emotional reserves. Nearly two weeks after Love was found dead in her apartment and a member of the men’s team, George Huguely, was charged in her murder, the Wahoos took the field at Klöckner Stadium last Sunday for their first-round game in the NCAA women’s tournament.
With Miss Love’s sister, Lexie, and their mother, Sharon, in the stands, sixth-seeded UVa held off Towson, 14-12. In doing so, however, the Cavaliers expended a vast amount of effort.
“It was such an emotional release to all that went into getting ready for that game, and then obviously just the competitiveness of the game. We were all exhausted by Sunday afternoon,” Myers said.
“We’re tired, but we still have lots and lots of things that we want to do. And again, our underlying theme is: We really need to stay together. So we’re going to try to work hard to see if we can’t make that happen.”
Her team faces a substantial challenge. Virginia (14-5) takes on No. 3 seed North Carolina (16-2) in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday at 1 p.m. at Fetzer Field. The Tar Heels are coming off a 18-5 romp over Navy and have won 10 of their past 11 games.
A moment of silence will be observed before the game, and there may be other tributes. UNC’s coach Jenny Slingluff Levy is a UVa alumna who played at the University with Myers.
“I think this has touched everyone,” Myers said, “not just my former teammates and our alumni, but really the lacrosse world and people in general. It’s been really amazing many people we’ve heard from and how many people have been supportive.”
In their regular-season meeting, the ‘Hoos edged the Heels 13-12 in overtime at Klöckner. But Virginia had Love, a senior defender, in that game, as well as three starters (attackers Ainsley Baker and Josie Owen and defender Bailey Fogarty) who have since suffered season-ending knee injuries.
Baker scored a career-high five goals against UNC, including the game-winner in overtime.
“So we certainly were a different team in terms of personnel than this time around,” Myers said. “But again, I think that we’ve come together nicely as a team. We may look different, and we play a little bit differently, but at the very center of it all, it’s still Virginia lacrosse, and everyone’s been with us since September practicing. So hopefully we’ll do our best, and they’ll all be ready.”
The Cavaliers are trying to advance to the women’s final four for the first time since 2007, when they lost to Northwestern in the championship game.
Top-seeded Virginia, which pounded Mount St. Mary’s 18-4 last weekend, is bidding for its third straight appearance in the men’s semifinals. Standing in the way is No. 8 seed Stony Brook, which has the advantage of playing on its home field Sunday.
The Cavaliers (15-1) and the Seawolves (13-3) will clash at 2:30 p.m. at LaValle Stadium, with the winner to meet No. 4 seed North Carolina or No. 5 seed Duke in the NCAA semifinals May 29 in Baltimore.
Like Myers, Starsia has been preparing this week for a familiar opponent. In late February, when snow still covered the ground at Klöckner, Virginia hosted Stony Brook at the University Hall Turf Field.
Sophomore attackmen Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick each had 3 goals and an assist, and junior goalie Adam Ghitelman made 13 saves in UVa’s 13-8 win.
For Stony Brook, midfielders Tom Compitello and Kevin Crowley had two goals apiece that afternoon, and they’ve combined to score 145 points this season, on 85 goals and 60 assists.
“I’m not sure that I appreciated Kevin Crowly and Compitello and some of these guys as much back in February as I do now,” Starsia said. “They just had monstrous seasons.”
The Cavaliers’ offense has been more balanced. Six Cavaliers have at least 28 points, including Bocklet (58), Stanwick (54) and the third starting attackman, Matt White (32).
At this time last year, White was a 12th-grader, and Bocklet was a seldom-used reserve at UVa. With the return of the Bratton twins, juniors Shamel and Rhamel, along with senior Brian Carroll and junior John Haldy, Virginia entered 2010 loaded at middie. But there was no guarantee that the ‘Hoos would successfully replace Danny Glading, Garrett Billings and Gavin Gill.
“I think it was obvious as you looked at us in anticipation of the season that the question mark going in was what the play at the attack was going to be like,” Starsia said.
“At the least, we needed them to be able to capitalize on opportunities that we might be able to create in the midfield, which was not asking too much … And I would say that we’ve generally surpassed that expectation.”
As for his team’s emotional state in the aftermath of Love’s death, and Huguely’s arrest, Starsia said, “I’ve think we’re all doing the best we can. What I’ve been struck with, what you don’t always see in this profession, is sort of the emotional side for college-age males. They’re not afraid to talk to each other and to talk to me a bit and do those things.
“So I think we’re moving forward slowly … I just think this is going to take some time, and we’ll try to help each other as best we can and try to help people’s situations as we move forward.”
Starsia’s graduating players will miss UVa’s final exercises Sunday, but they’ll receive their diplomas in a special ceremony Monday.
Myers’ team plans to return to Charlottesville after the game Saturday.
For her fourth-year players, Myers said, “I do think graduation is going to be another hurdle. It’s something they’ve worked hard getting to, but it certainly is going to have a different feel than anybody had ever anticipated. I think with mixed emotions they’ll go to graduation. I have spoken to a bunch of the fourth-years, really encouraging them to try their best to enjoy the process of walking down the Lawn, which is a pretty special moment.
“We know it’s going to be different. We know there’s going to be a sadness and an emptiness to it, but I still want them to acknowledge all the work that they’ve put in and all that they’ve done while they’ve been here at Virginia.
“So I think with heavy hearts, the fourth-years will walk the Lawn together as a group, which is something that they’ve always done. And we’re going to just try our best to be with them and support them and to make sure that they’re doing all right in the process.”