By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kelly Reese admits she can be prone to sentimentality, but she’ll do her best to keep her mind from wandering Friday evening in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Reese, an attacker from Severna Park, Maryland, is a senior on the University of Virginia women’s lacrosse team, which is in the NCAA tournament for the 22nd consecutive season. Reese knows she’s reached the stage where any game could be her final one as a Cavalier.
“Everyone makes fun of me, because I’m always the friend that’s like, `This could be the last time we do this,’ ” Reese said, smiling.
“When I’m on the field, it’s really hard to not have that in my head. It’s definitely there, but I think if anything it gives me a little bit more motivation to play, because I don’t want it to be the last time. It’s definitely scary now, being in this position.”
UVA (11-8), ranked No. 13 nationally, meets No. 20 Elon (13-6) in the NCAA tournament’s first round Friday at 5 p.m. at Fetzer Field. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3 and can also be seen via the WatchESPN app.
The winner will face third-ranked North Carolina (16-2), the NCAA tourney’s No. 2 seed, at 1 p.m. Sunday in Chapel Hill.
Elon and UNC are responsible for two of the Wahoos’ eight losses. In the Feb. 11 season opener, the Phoenix stunned the Cavaliers 11-10 at Klöckner Stadium. The Tar Heels defeated the `Hoos 21-11 in Chapel Hill on March 11.
“We’re definitely happy that we get to face Elon again, because that was a big loss for us in the beginning of the year,” Reese said. “I think we’re a completely different team than we were in the beginning of the season.”
Virginia head coach Julie Myers said she’s “wanted to play Elon [again] since that game ended. Literally. I would have said, `Let’s go grab something to eat, and then we’re coming right back to Klöckner and we’re playing it again.’ ”
The Phoenix, in the NCAA tournament for the first time, feature a prolific scorer in Stephanie Asher and a stellar goalkeeper in Rachel Ramirez.
“So we’re going to have to play well to win this game, but I do like how we’re playing,” said Myers, who’s in her 22nd season as head coach at her alma mater. “We have a different lineup now than in the beginning of the year. We’re just so much more aware defensively, so much better, really, in every way, as you should be at this point of the season.”
Asher, a junior, has scored 58 goals this season. Reese, in her first year as a full-time starter, leads the Cavaliers with 40 goals.
“We would like her to score another 20 in the next five games,” Myers said, smiling, “but we’ll see how that goes.”
Reese’s role on the team has steadily grown. She scored two goals as a freshman in 2014, when she played in only six games, then 21 as a sophomore and 27 as a junior.
“I definitely always wish I could have had more of an impact my first and second year,” said Reese, who has 10 assists this season, “but it’s nice ending on such a great note.”
An Under Armour All-American at Severn School near Annapolis, Reese started the recruiting process early and committed to UVA before her junior year.
“Virginia was actually the first school that I visited,” she said, “but I was really interested in Florida as well, and I also really considered Vanderbilt and Penn State. I visited a lot of places, and as cliche as it sounds, I always came back to Virginia, because it just had the best balance of everything.”
The 5-2 Reese’s greatest attribute in lacrosse is her speed, as it was in soccer, her other sport at Severn.
“Unbelievably fast,” Myers said. “With that first step, she can beat just about anybody. People could train their whole life and not be that fast or not be that smooth.”
“I came in knowing that there were a lot of older girls who had been doing really well and that if I was going to play at all, I definitely had to earn my position,” Reese said. “But I think all of those girls were great examples for me. If anything, it was nice having those veterans, because they pushed me. They pushed each other and then everyone else on the team.”
Having to wait her turn “taught me that no matter if you’re playing or not, everyone has a role on the team,” Reese said, “and everyone’s contributing something that’s going to eventually help us get to what we’re all working for.”
A history major, Reese took her last exam at UVA on Tuesday, but her education will continue.
“I’m actually back to school for interior design,” she said. “I was going to maybe see if I could do architecture here, but with all the studio hours in the afternoon, it wouldn’t have worked with lacrosse.”
She plans to take computer classes at Anne Arundel Community College and then transfer to a school in the D.C. area to study interior design.
“It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do,” said Reese, who’ll work this summer, as she did in 2015 and ’16, for Interior Concepts Inc. in Annapolis.
Her mother has “a very artistic eye,” Reese said, “so growing up, I would always try and have a say in little projects she would do around the house. And even with clothes, I just try and express myself in a different way than what’s quote-unquote `normal.’ ”
Reese is one of six seniors on the Cavaliers’ roster, along with Besser Dyson, Maggie Preas, Katherine Rueger, Posey Valis and Wyatt Whitley. Dyson and Valis also are starting attackers, and Reese has known them since they were all in middle school.
They played together occasionally, in all-star games and at tournaments, before enrolling at UVA in 2013.
“But then finally being on the same team permanently was really cool,” Reese said, “and going through [college] together was something that none of us would change.”
Along the way, Myers said, Reese has developed into one of the Cavaliers’ leaders, and that’s been gratifying for the coaching staff to watch.
“Really, truly she has progressed along the way,” Myers said. “She’s still really, really fast, but she’s worked harder with fitness, so she’s been able to use [that speed] better as she’s gotten more mature.
“It’s really good to see it come together for her. She has given us her heart, and she has put in a lot of work along the way.”