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Virginia's season ends at hands of Duke

5/30/2010

BALTIMORE -- Asked to give an opening statement at a postgame news conference, many coaches reach quickly into their glib bag of clich├ęs and rattle off a few useless sentences.

After his team lost 14-13 to Duke in the lacrosse Final Four, Dom Starsia paused. The Virginia coach took a deep breath, rubbed his forehead and searched for the right words.

He gave credit to Duke and then finally said, "I don't really know where to begin."

It was raw, honest and entirely accurate.

There are no right words and certainly no trite words to sum up what the Virginia lacrosse team has been through the last month.

They have grieved the death of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love while trying to come to grips with the fact their teammate, George Huguely, has been charged in her death.

They've played seemingly meaningless games of lacrosse, but the games actually couldn't have been more meaningful.

"The final score may be the least important part of what has transpired here throughout the spring," said Starsia, who has carried a double dose of sadness. His father died this month as well. "The final score wasn't what we hoped for, but it doesn't diminish who we are and what they battled through and the men they are."

Virginia has been in this spot before. This marks the third consecutive time the Cavaliers have lost in the national semifinal round.

But nothing was quite like this, nor will it ever be again.

Love was killed just days before the NCAA tournament selection show and the Cavaliers, the top-seeded team and easy favorite, came into the playoffs under intense media scrutiny, pressure and emotion.

They beat Mount St. Mary's easily and survived against Stony Brook, emotionally spent and physically drained.

Yet when the women's team lost in the quarterfinals, the men added to their burden, admitting they were playing for them as much as for themselves.

The emotions of their season played out in the roller coaster of the game. Virginia jumped to an early 8-5 lead and then lost its verve, falling behind 12-8.

But just when everyone thought the tank was empty, the Cavs roared back, tying the game at 13 with 1:21 to play.

Then, with just 12 seconds left, it was over. Duke scored and Virginia failed to get off a shot and the Cavaliers were left to come to grips with it all.

As Starsia searched for the right words, attackman Chris Bocklet wiped tears from his eyes and Steele Stanwick dropped his gaze to the table.

"The emotions of this season were a lot to handle." Stanwick said. "The season may be over but we're still a team. We'll stay together through this thing, to make sure everyone is OK."

In many ways, the hardest days are just beginning.

Graduation is over.

The season is over.

Players will scatter, and there will be that terrifying thing called free time.

"I can't say for sure [how this offseason will be]," Starsia said. "We were able to stay together and that really helped us through it all. It will take some time to figure it all out. It would have been so much easier if we had won."

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball and other college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.