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UVa men top seed, women 6th in NCAAs

5/10/2010

The Virginia lacrosse teams both anticipated playing for a
national championship this month. They just never expected it to be
like this.

The men's and women's teams awaited word of their NCAA
tournament seedings Sunday night, a day after women's player
Yeardley Love was buried in her native Maryland. The 22-year-old
was found beaten in her apartment earlier in the week and
Charlottesville authorities have charged George Huguely of the
men's team with first-degree murder.

Both teams decided to play on with the support of Love's family.

The Cavaliers men's team was given the top seed in the 16-team
field. Appearing for the 17th time in coach Dom Starsia's 18
seasons, Virginia will host Mount St. Mary's on Saturday night. It
will not only be the first game for the team since the program was
rocked by the slaying, but also since Starsia's father died Friday
after a long illness.

The women's team, making its 15th consecutive trip to the
tournament under coach Julie Myers, was given a No. 6 and will play
at home against Towson on Sunday.

The off-the-field events have left both squads having to find
ways to put aside their grief long enough to focus on competing in
the tournament.

Starsia, who had not spoken publically since the slaying until
Sunday night, said before taking questions that he was not able to
answer any queries related to the investigation.

"It's hard to put into words what this week has been like.
Tragic on so many different levels," he said, noting that he
rejoined the team for practice on Sunday. "I was glad to be able
to at least consider the lacrosse piece of this again, both on the
field this afternoon with the team and talking about lacrosse this
evening."

Starsia has guided Virginia to three national championships, the
last in 2006, and said he told the when they met on Monday that
there's no roadmap for the journey just ahead.

"We're going to try to take this as a group and as a family and
try to take this in small pieces and begin to move forward, and
today may have been the first small step," he said.

Starsia said he and Myers talked often this week, and that he
was surprised when he asked her Thursday whether or not her team
was planning to continue it's season.

She gave him a quizical look, he said, and said, "Well, we're
playing."

Few can understand the kind of attention that could follow
Virginia's teams through the NCAAs better than Duke coach John
Danowski. He took over the Blue Devils' program during the
headline-grabbing, divisive rape investigation in 2006 and '07.

The false allegations ignited debates on race, class and
athletic privilege at the elite university in Durham, N.C.

The Duke team had months to get accustomed to all the attention
before falling by a goal to Johns Hopkins in the national
championship game in Baltimore.

"We had eight months to process it and we had eight months to
be together," Danowski said. "I can't tell you that there's any
similarity. ... They've got to mourn."

Danowski says that's why he has not reached out to UVa men's
coach Dom Starsia.

The Duke scandal prompted the university to cancel the second
half of the 2006 season and fire longtime coach Mike Pressler. It
then followed the Blue Devils the entire next year, forcing
Danowski to spend probably as much time counseling wounded players
and trying to keep them talking about their feelings as he did
preparing each game plan in his first season.

"I know that winning a game or losing a game -- and I said this
-- didn't make you a good person or a bad person," Danowski said.
"It just made you part of a team. Winning wasn't going to make
everything go away and losing wasn't going to. It was just a game,
for two hours in the afternoon."

Playing won't make things right again at Virginia. But at this
point, it's all they can do.

"The 70 remaining athletes have gone through so much in this
short time ... I have to believe that playing this out would almost
be an act of catharsis," said Robert Carpenter, a former player at
Duke who founded Inside Lacrosse magazine after graduating in 1996.

That process has begun elsewhere, too.

Both Danowski and Maryland men's coach Dave Cottle said they had
met with their players last week to discuss Love's death and
Huguely's arrest. As Cottle said, "I don't think this is a
lacrosse issue. This is a life issue."

"I've been involved in lacrosse for 30 years and I've never
heard anything like this," Cottle said. "It's devastating for all
involved -- for the families of course, and for the lacrosse
community. You don't want this to be the way lacrosse is being
perceived.

"Hopefully, most people intelligently will look at it and say
it was an individual act by an individual kid and not paint the
whole sport with a brush."

Carpenter said the Duke case ultimately galvanized a tight-knit
lacrosse community, which has national reach but is concentrated in
the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. He hopes the events at
Virginia generates a similar show of support within the sport for a
pair of reeling programs trying to focus on a game again.

"Life's just been turned upside down for those at arm's length
from this incident," Carpenter said, "let alone those closest to
it."