Virginia carries a burden after Love's killing

For top-seeded Cavaliers, aftermath of U.Va. women's player's death has taken emotional, physical toll

May 27, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Dom Starsia has never hid behind semantics or double talk.

The coach of the Virginia men's lacrosse team was candid during a conference call with reporters when — in light of the weeks of turmoil since senior midfielder George Huguely was charged in the killing of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love — he was asked whether things will return to normal.

"I'm not exactly sure what normal is these days," Starsia said Tuesday morning. "I did think that there were times on Sunday [when the Cavaliers defeated No. 8 seed Stony Brook, 10-9, in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal] when I wondered whether or not our tank might be running dry, the emotional tank.

"I give our kids credit for reaching down and kind of gutting out a win there on Sunday. So if you're asking me, 'Where are you at on that scale of things,' it's hard for me to tell. All I can tell you is that we've got a good bunch of guys here. They've been alert on the practice field, and they've brought good energy to what we're trying to do, and we'll see how it transfers on Saturday."

The top-seeded Cavaliers (16-1) will meet No. 5 seed Duke (14-4) in a semifinal at 6:30p.m. Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium.

University officials have been careful to shield the players from the news media since Love, a Cockeysville native, was found dead May 3 in her apartment. Players have generally been kept under wraps in the days leading up to tournament games, and the locker room after Sunday's contest was closed.

Every news conference has been prefaced with a directive stating that the players and Starsia won't comment on Huguely, Love or any related matter because of the continuing investigation and legal proceedings.

But the players have acknowledged that they feel a certain responsibility to continue their season for the Love family and the women's team, which lost to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday.

"Going into the game, you really want to win for them now," junior goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman said Sunday. "That's a lot of motivation for me personally, and I think for the team. Those girls deserve everything. We want to play for them for the rest of the year, and we're going to do that."

But can taking on that type of emotional responsibility be too much to shoulder? As ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich pointed out, the Cavaliers appeared to struggle physically and emotionally against Stony Brook.

"I lost my dad when I was 18 years old, and it just wears on you," said Kessenich, a former All-America goalie who helped Johns Hopkins capture the 1987 national championship. "I don't know, but emotional stress and tragedy of this nature is physically and mentally taxing. We know that. So we'll see how they bounce back from this game. They did not look like they were full of energy in the second half, but they managed to win the ballgame. So they've got a week to rest and get fresh for Saturday's game."

Starsia said he thinks the players are strong enough to handle added expectations.

"I don't think these young men need any more additional pressure on themselves," he said. "But to dismiss that these things are in mind would be naive. So for us to want to carry the banner a little bit for the women's team, that's just the way it is. The two programs have been supportive of each other and will continue to do that and feel that way about each other. And I'm certainly not going to deny that at all."

Duke coach John Danowski, who was on the same conference call as Starsia, said there is no handbook for dealing with tragedy.

"On so many levels, we can't wrap our heads around this any better than anyone else can," said Danowski, who helped the Blue Devils rebound from what turned out to be false rape charges that canceled the team's 2006 season.

"We're not experts in crisis management. You just figure out how to survive each day, and I think that's what the Virginia community is doing. There's just so much emotion and so many feelings, and you don't know how to sort your feelings. It's just a very difficult situation."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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