Cavaliers work slowly toward sense of normality after Love's death

Team to host Towson on Sunday in NCAA tournament

May 11, 2010|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

As Virginia's women's lacrosse team prepares for Sunday's first-round NCAA tournament game against Towson, winning holds a more compelling meaning than just bringing a fourth national championship home to Charlottesville.

In the wake of the slaying last week of their teammate Yeardley Love, the Cavaliers are playing to stay together as long as they can.

"We really feel an incredible desire and need to stay together …," Cavaliers coach Julie Myers told reporters Monday. "If the game doesn't go well on Sunday for us, then that's it. We're two weeks into healing and mourning and figuring this out and trying to feel OK and then all a sudden, we would go a million different directions. I think our desire to stay together is helping us focus on trying to get back to normal as much as we can."

The Cavaliers returned to Charlottesville Sunday evening after attending Saturday's funeral for Love, a 22-year-old Cockeysville resident and Notre Dame Prep graduate who was found dead in her apartment May 3. Her ex-boyfriend George Huguely, a member of the Cavaliers' men's lacrosse team, has been charged with first-degree murder.

Myers said the Cavaliers did consider declining their bids to the NCAA tournament, where the women are seeded No. 6 and the men No. 1. The Loves — Yeardley's mother, Sharon, and sister Lexi — didn't want that for either team, Myers said.

"Sharon Love and Lexi Love were flattered and honored that we even considered shutting our seasons down," Myers said. "Obviously as six of the guys were pallbearers for Yeardley on Saturday, I think [her mother] made a statement that these are Yeardley's best friends and she would want nothing more than to see them continue their season."

After hearing of Love's death, Myers said, the men's and women's teams met in separate pavilions on The Lawn near where a memorial service was held for Love Wednesday night that both teams attended. The bond between the teams remains strong, she said.

"It's hard to put into words what this week has been like. Tragic on so many different levels," Dom Starsia, the Cavaliers' men's coach, told the Associated Press on Sunday night.

Starsia also was dealing with the death of his father Friday after a lengthy illness, but he returned to his team for a Sunday practice.

"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," Starsia said.

Both coaches have said getting through the next few weeks is a day-to-day assessment because there is no road map for how to handle it.

"It is uncharted territory," Myers said. "Every day we hope that we're doing the right thing, but with every decision we keep our team in our mind and the Love family in our heart and we figure out, 'What do you think we can do? What would make us feel better as people?' and that's kind of been our road map. Staying together has to be at the core of it."

In Towson, Tigers coach Missy Doherty anticipated a possible matchup with the Cavaliers in the opening round, so she wasn't surprised that her team got the most emotional draw of the Division I bracket.

The game, scheduled for noon or 1 p.m. Sunday at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, was the first announced on the CBS College Sports Network selection show Sunday night.

Doherty quickly tried to put into perspective what it would mean to play the Cavaliers.

"I mentioned after the draw that it is going to be somewhat of an emotional game," Doherty said, "but what we're going through pales in comparison to what Virginia's going through. They lost their teammate, so as difficult as it might be for us to go down there and deal with some of the emotional things going on, it's nothing compared to what their players are dealing with."

With all the support coming in from around the country for the Cavaliers, who are the sentimental favorites in the 16-team field, the Tigers might feel that everyone is rooting against them. But both coaches will try to make the on-field experience as normal as possible for their teams.

"I told the girls," Doherty said, "with everything going on, it's a pretty heavy experience, but when the whistle blows, it's just lacrosse and we're both playing for the same thing — to go further in the tournament. We respect them as opponents just like they respect us as opponents, and a lot of comfort comes back when that very first whistle blows because you just go out there and do your best."

Myers said she has heard from coaches of many sports around the country, Virginia graduates and parents who have lost children in similar ways, and that she has picked up some advice from them. But the healing process will take a long time, and it may be tougher once the season does end and the players and coaches scatter, including six players headed for summer programs in Europe.

At that point, Myers said, families will be called on to be more involved, and a counseling program will be in place for anyone who wants it. She also hopes everyone will stay in touch as much as possible and continue to lean on each other.

In the meantime, they won't try to hurry the process.

"We are taking things pretty slowly on our end in terms of our prep and our emotions," Myers said. "I think as the game gets closer we'll have a better feeling on how much more healing has happened and really how much more we can take each day, but we're still looking at taking things two days at a time, trying to get a handle on how much is too much and how we're doing."

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