Va. lax teams dealing with loss, will compete in tournament

Experts say playing the sport may be best therapy

May 05, 2010|By Jeff Barker, Edward Lee and Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

As University of Virginia men's and women's lacrosse players and their families struggled to make sense Tuesday of the killing of a female team member — allegedly at the hands of a male player — athletic director Craig Littlepage said "part of the healing" will include the teams playing in their respective NCAA tournaments that begin in less than two weeks.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Littlepage said the Cavaliers will move forward with their seasons after the death of women's player Yeardley Love of Cockeysville early Monday. George Huguely, a senior on the men's team, has been charged with first-degree murder in what his attorney called "an accident with a tragic outcome."

Littlepage said it is important for the players to get back into their routines, including playing lacrosse.

The women's team finished the regular season with a 13-5 record and will learn its NCAA seeding Sunday. The top-ranked men's team, which won 14 of 15 regular-season games, will also learn its tournament schedule and opponent Sunday.

The first round of the men's and women's tournaments is the weekend of May 15-16. The men's final is at M&T Bank Stadium, and the women's final is in Towson — both during the Memorial Day weekend.

"Our lacrosse teams will honor Yeardley by continuing their seasons," Littlepage said. "We anticipate both teams will be selected for the NCAA tournaments and they will represent the University of Virginia as they always have."

At a time when the women's team would normally have been practicing and awaiting its tournament seeding, players instead met with counselors and family members as they tried to understand Love's death.

Players' relatives had said before Little-

page's announcement that they expected the women's team to finish the season, but that it was too soon to contemplate lacrosse. The families described a sense of disorientation among the players. "They just stayed together in hotel rooms," said a parent, who described players seeking shelter from media members roving the lush campus. "They are just going to be together, and lacrosse is secondary right now."

Experts, including a psychologist and the men's coaches at Maryland and Cornell, indicated that playing lacrosse might be the best therapy for the players. Each of the coaches has endured the death of a player, although none approached the circumstances of the Virginia case.

"I think if you completely suspend the season, you're not addressing the feelings," said sports psychologist Eric Morse, who has worked for UMBC, Maryland and the Orioles, among others.

"It seems to me that you leave it up to the kids," said former Virginia athletic director and men's lacrosse coach Gene Corrigan, a Baltimore native who moved back to Charlottesville after retiring as Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner 13 years ago. "For them to stop now, what good would it do? You certainly want to honor the person who has passed away, but it's just a hard one."

Officials with the US Lacrosse Foundation, which promotes the sport nationally, described their frustration at hearing the sport questioned in the media as it was when an exotic dancer alleged that she had been raped during an off-campus Duke men's lacrosse team party in 2006. The case collapsed, and Durham County District Attorney Michael B. Nifong was disbarred for violating rules of professional conduct.

Before the alleged rape victim was discredited, lacrosse had been widely depicted as fostering well-to-do athletes with inflated senses of entitlement.

"Somebody was talking to me yesterday and said, 'There are those lacrosse guys again.' And I said, 'Wait a second,'" said Baltimore surgeon Miles Harrison, a member of US Lacrosse's board of directors whose son Kyle starred at Johns Hopkins and played professionally. "I think it's unfair for the sport of lacrosse to have any black mark against it because of the behavior of an individual. There's no referendum on football and basketball when those horrible events occur."

Former player and coach Bill Blanchard criticized what he termed a "rush to judgment." Blanchard of Larchmont, N.Y., is a member of the lacrosse foundation's board.

"I think it's a little premature to make something cosmic out of it. I know [Virginia coach] Dom Starsia pretty well, and he runs a good program," Blanchard said.

Experts say there are few guidelines for teams handling tragedy. "Every team is different," Morse said.

At Loyola, former coach Dave Cottle said, "We submerged ourselves" when freshman player Gerry Case died of meningitis in 1997. "Before every game, we would take our helmets off and point to the sky," said Cottle, now Maryland's coach. "We had his number on. He helped us get stronger as a team. … We just kept working."

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