By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — They lingered on the field long after the final second ticked off the clock Saturday afternoon. A lacrosse season marked by the tragic death of Yeardley Love was over, but members of the UVa women’s team, who out of necessity had grown extraordinarily close during the past three weeks, weren’t quite ready to let it go.
After shaking hands with their counterparts from North Carolina, who wore orange armbands in Love’s memory, UVa’s players jogged toward the stands at one end of Fetzer Field. There, they waved and blew kisses to UVa fans and parents and other family members. At the other end of the stands, UNC supporters rose and applauded.
Then the players returned to the far sideline. Sitting on the field where the sixth-seeded Wahoos had just lost 17-7 to third-seeded UNC in an NCAA quarterfinal, they listened as head coach Julie Myers and her assistants took turns addressing the team.
“My message was basically that I love them and I’m proud of them and that we couldn’t have asked them to do any more,” Myers said. “Not on the field or off the field.”
Carolina coach Jenny Levy praised the Cavaliers’ courage. “They have nothing to hang their head about,” Levy said. “They fought back all game. They did not quit today. My guess is that they were a little low in the tank.”
A week earlier, with Miss Love’s sister, Lexie, and their mother, Sharon, in attendance, the crowd at Klöckner Stadium had helped UVa muster the energy to hold off Towson 14-12 in an emotional first-round game.
At Fetzer Field, there was no dramatic ending. The Tar Heels dominated from the start and led 11-2 at halftime. Once Carolina’s lead reached 10 goals in the second half, the game was played with a running clock.
“You always fear that you’re going to be a little bit flat or a little bit tired coming through the stretch that we’ve come through,” Myers said. “Carolina’s a great team. I think even if we played our very best today, I am not so sure what the score would be. I would like to think it wouldn’t have been by 10, but Carolina’s really good.”
Levy, whose maiden name is Slingluff, played at UVa with Myers. Their coach was Jane Miller, who was at the game Saturday in her role as Virginia’s senior associate athletics director for programs.
At the press conference, Levy choked up when asked about her postgame embrace with Myers.
“Julie was a teammate of mine at Virginia and we remain good friends today, and I wanted her to know, and Jane Miller, my coach, to know, how much we support the Virginia lacrosse program,” Levy said. “And although I didn’t know Yeardley, I do know the people who are feeling pain with her loss, and I just wanted Julie to know how much I loved her and how much I support her.”
UNC (17-2) advances to meet second-seeded Northwestern in the semifinals Friday night at Towson, Md. UVa finished 14-6.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, but through everything we stuck together, and it really shows,” said senior midfielder Kaitlin Duff, who led UVa with three goals Saturday.
“We didn’t play our best today, but I think we feel great about our season. Through this, we’ve always had Yeardley in our hearts. She wouldn’t have wanted us to sit around and be sad. She was such a positive person, and I think we ourselves are trying to be positive and think of the good things that we can do from now on for her.”
Virginia closed the regular season April 30 with an overtime loss to five-time defending NCAA champion Northwestern. Three days later, Miss Love was found dead at her Charlottesville apartment, and George Huguely, a member of the men’s lacrosse team at UVa, was charged in her murder.
“Our first few days, we took it literally hour by hour,” Myers said. “I don’t think I ever thought about where we would be three weeks down the road. And where we are today, again, I’m just incredibly proud of their perseverence, their love, their consistency, their leadership, and really how important Yeardley was to everybody, and how she’s so right in everyone’s heart and right on everybody’s mind, but only in a really positive way.”
The Virginia team that took the field Saturday differed dramatically from the one that edged Carolina 13-12 in overtime March 13 at Klöckner Stadium. On crutches were attackers Ainsley Baker and Josie Owen and defender Bailey Fogarty, each out after having reconstructive knee surgery.
All started in the regular-season game against UNC. Baker, in fact, scored a career-high five goals, including the game-winner in OT.
“That certainly made today’s job a lot tougher,” Myers said. “But I think what we also learned is, as important as little things are, really there’s a lot of little things. An ACL is going to heal. That suddenly seems kind of like a stubbed toe to me. So I think we’ll be OK. We’ve got great people in place support-wise at Virginia, trainers and all, so I think those kids will heal.
“It’s the phone call we got three weeks ago that we knew that wasn’t going to be fixed in a hospital. Yes, those kids will heal, but certainly Yeardley has put all these little injuries in perspective. But I don’t wish an ACL or a stubbed toe or anything like this on anyone.”
In the days leading up to UVa’s game against Towson, Myers worried about the effect a first-round defeat would have on her players. It was not that they couldn’t handle losing a lacrosse game, but that they weren’t far enough long in their healing.
The extra week together helped immensely.
“I think every day we’ve been together has been a positive day,” Myers said. “I think it’s taken a lot of energy for us to just go through the steps of a normal day, but I think our team has gotten stronger. We’ve gotten more connected.
“At the end of the game one of our fifth-year seniors said, ‘There’s not a question in anyone’s mind that we all love each other,’ and to know that is a pretty special and amazing feeling. So I think we’ve definitely established the unconditional love for one another, and we have gotten a little stronger. So to see what these guys have gone through and to see the direction they’ve all moved in as a team has been amazing. I know the Love family is proud of what we’ve been able to do, as we’re proud of them in their healing as well.”
The Loves did not attend the game in Chapel Hill, but they sent their support in texts and on Facebook.
“Mrs. Love said, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, go ‘Hoos!’ ” Duff told reporters, echoing a chant for which Yeardley was known inside the program.
Duff, Caity Whiteley and Brittany Kalkstein joined Myers at the postgame press conference. They’re among the seniors who will walk the Lawn during UVa’s final exercises Sunday. It will be a bittersweet experience, said Whiteley, who lived with Miss Love.
Kalkstein agreed. “I don’t think there’s any way that you can really move on from this,” she said. “Obviously it’s going to be in our thoughts forever, but I think we’re going to try to stick in town for a few days and be with each other and stay close for the summer and come back for camp and do all that kind of stuff. But it definitely was a huge learning experience these past three weeks, and I think it taught us a lot.
“You just learn a lot about life and each other and how to lean on someone for support and how to give someone support. And I think that is something that we’ll definitely take on through the rest of our lives, whether it’s dealing with matters like this or helping out with something as insignificant as an ACL.”
Duff said: “We also learned just how supportive and nice so many people have been to us. So many teams and players and coaches have reached out to us. We wish this would have never happened, but we’re thankful for everyone’s support.”