May 5, 2010
Virginia's Chris LaPierre (2a) avoids the trail check of Syracuse's Jovan Miller. © Matt Riley
Virginia's Chris LaPierre (2a) avoids the trail check of Syracuse's Jovan Miller. © Matt Riley

Cavaliers Play On as Murder Case Unfolds

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

* Day Three: Virginia Students to Hold Vigil
* UVA Lax Player Dead; Another in Custody
* UVA: Huguely-Love Dispute; Teams to Play
* Statement: Virginia Lacrosse Teams will Continue Seasons
* Lambrecht: Cloud Envelops Virginia Lacrosse

"There are no rules. There’s no precedent here. There’s no outline. There’s no training," Duke coach John Danowski says of the Virginia lacrosse murder case. "It makes it so difficult on so many levels."

© John Strohsacker/

University of Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage announced Tuesday night his school’s lacrosse teams would continue their seasons in the wake of women’s team defender Yeardley Love’s death and a first-degree murder charge against men’s team midfielder George Huguely.

What comes next will have far more to do with how people handle suddenly facing a painful and unexpected situation than anything related to the game.

There’s nothing in the rule book on how to cope with the shocking death of a teammate, nothing in any coaching manual to help figure out the appropriate course of action when a player is accused of killing a fellow student.

It will be an unquestionably difficult time for both teams, who are expected to receive NCAA tournament berths this weekend and will not play again until May 15 or 16. And it will be the greatest test coaches Julie Myers and Dom Starsia are likely to ever face in their careers.

“When you deal with young people, it’s an educational process,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “We’re not just educating them on the Xs and Os of lacrosse, but the Xs and Os of life. Sometimes, things happen that are inexplicable. I’m sure nowhere did his parents try not to teach what was right or his coaches try not to teach what was right.”

Cottle faced a sudden tragedy more than a decade ago while coaching at Loyola. Freshman Gerry Case died of meningitis, just a few days after playing in a game for the Greyhounds.

But that was different than the scenario both teams in Charlottesville face this month.

“We didn’t have someone to blame for that,” Cottle said. “That’s what’s going to make this even more challenging. You couldn’t explain what happened because it came so quickly and everyone did everything they possibly could. It was just his time. This one, there’s human connections, which make it even more difficult to handle."

In some ways, it might be more dicey from a coaching perspective for Starsia, who must somehow grapple with the reality that one of his players is accused of murder. But it won’t be easy for either coaching staff, which will be looked to for guidance during a turbulent time.

John Danowski was still at Hofstra when his son’s Duke team spent the spring of 2006 under scrutiny in the wake of rape accusations that ultimately proved false. Danowski eventually took the Duke job that summer and helped to bring back a program the school briefly considered eliminating.

Like Cottle’s experience, Danowski’s situation wasn’t quite like what has unfolded in Charlottesville this week. But he still has an understanding of how to deal with the unexpected.

“It’s so tragic and I think everybody is numbed by it, but ultimately you have to trust a little bit of your gut, a little bit of your life experience,” Danowski said. “Young men and women will be looking
toward all their leaders -- presidents, deans, athletic directors and their coaches. It’s just about caring about kids and doing your best.

There are no rules. There’s no precedent here. There’s no outline. There’s no training. It makes it so difficult on so many levels.”

The absence of a rational explanation compounds matters. It’s natural for anyone involved in a tragedy to seek answers as part of the grieving process.

Without any that make sense, Virginia’s coaches and players will face a challenging situation in the weeks and months to come.

“I can’t even fathom the feelings that must be going on in Charlottesville,” Danowski said. “You just trust your gut and be sensitive to everyone and listen and just do your best. Everybody is going to respond different.”

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