CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- For three months, the North Carolina lacrosse team dealt privately with its grief over the death of teammate Kevin Reichardt.
Friday night, the Tar Heels made a public statement that displayed the feeling they have for Reichardt. Playing with some of the emotion it has kept bottled up this season, North Carolina came out fast and built a 13-5 lead en route to a 14-9 victory over Maryland in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
"We've had some terrible distractions this year, and we've made it a point not to talk about them," Dave Klarmann said. "We wanted to win this game, and the ACC tournament, for Kevin Reichardt. His murder is something that a lot of guys are still coming to terms with."
By all accounts, Reichardt symbolized everything good about college athletics. A 1993 graduate of St. Mary's High in Annapolis who was at North Carolina on a partial athletic scholarship, he was a dean's list student who worked to overcome his weaknesses and carve a niche as a midfielder with the Tar Heels.
On Jan. 26, six days past his 20th birthday, Reichardt and a Chapel Hill resident were murdered by a North Carolina law student in a random shooting.
Among the Tar Heels, players discussed their grief with teammates, coaches and counselors, but Reichardt's name was never mentioned by Klarmann before or after a game until Friday.
This was not some cheap motivational ploy. The terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City was a reminder of the senseless manner in which Reichardt died. When parents showed up Friday and asked the players to wear T-shirts that are being sold to benefit a memorial scholarship fund that has been established in his name, it was time for a tribute of some kind.
"Dedicating that game and the tournament to Kevin was spontaneous, yet it's been percolating," Klarmann said. "Why not admit that it's a part of your psyche? I don't think a day goes by when anyone on our team doesn't see Kevin in some shape or form. We've repressed some feelings. The players still don't want to talk about it publicly. I don't like to, but I need to."
The Tar Heels will take an 8-5 record into today's ACC championship game against Duke, and they're probably headed their worst record since the 1970s.
"We've spent the last few months trying to regroup and focus on what we do, and not use Kevin's murder as any type of an excuse for not doing well," Klarmann said. "You don't want to dwell on him as a lacrosse player, because that's so insignificant. We have to move forward, and keep Kevin with us, if that's possible."
TODAY'S ACC CHAMPIONSHIP
NORTH CAROLINA (8-5) vs. DUKE (10-3)
Site: Fetzer Field, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Time: 1 p.m.
Outlook: On paper, Maryland and Virginia are supposed to be playing this game, but there's no such thing as an upset in the ACC this season. In Friday's semifinals, seventh-ranked and fourth-seeded Duke handled Virginia, 17-10, and third-seeded and eighth-ranked North Carolina held off Maryland, 14-9. The Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils, 13-8, on March 25. Merrill Turnbull has 26 goals and 20 assists for North Carolina. Scott Harrison has 24 and 23, respectively, for Duke.