May 16, 2010

Lots of Love in Virginia's NCAA Tournament Win

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Game Blog

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- On a sun-splashed Sunday at Klockner Stadium, the Virginia women's lacrosse team won its first game since the death of defender Yeardley Love by two goals.

More significantly, they did it for No. 1, who was never far from the minds of anyone in the program.

The sixth-seeded Cavaliers outlasted Towson 14-12 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, then gathered on the field and displayed placards reading "1" in honor of their teammate, who was killed May 3.

"I know I wasn't ready to be done," coach Julie Myers said. "I don't think the girls were even close to being ready, either, partly because we're really competitive and we really love playing lacrosse and we feel like we're a good enough team to still be alive, but also because we still need to be together as we take these next steps. Emotionally, we've been through an awful lot."

Reminders of Love were everywhere, as Virginia (14-5) advanced to a meeting next weekend with third-seeded North Carolina.

There were the shooting shirts with the message "One team, one heart, one Love" on the back.

There was a plethora of blue and orange ribbons, and the presence of Love's family among the crowd.

There was a 15-second moment of silence before the game, which was soon followed by a raucous, extended cheer from the 2,270 in attendance.

Afterward, players from Towson (13-5) handed their Virginia counterparts pins of an angel with a lacrosse stick, just the latest example of people in the sport offering their respect and appreciation for what the grief-wracked program endured in the last two weeks.

"I think the support from all other teams in the NCAA has been unreal and given us strength," said Brittany Kalkstein, who scored two goals and added two assists for the Cavaliers.

The Virginia women played less than 24 hours after the school's men's program also took the field for the first time since both programs were thrown into tumult. Men's midfielder George Huguely was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Love's death.

The ensuing time between the tragedy and a game left plenty of time to ponder this month's events, but it also added to the value of returning to what brought the Cavaliers together in the first place.

"You hear you always want to find some kind of normal," Myers said. "To be able to be back on a game field is something that's normal at this point in the season. This is our 19th game of the season. Game days, game situations, it's part of a routine we've been going through for years and years."

It seemed that way almost instantly after Charlie Finnigan scored 12 seconds into the game and Virginia raced to a 3-0 lead.

Towson soon erased the deficit, rallying as it would so often throughout the day. The Tigers also came back from a 10-7 hole, and responded with a goal when Virginia took an 11-10 lead.

"I think in respect to the Virginia team, it was our duty just to play as hard as we could against them," said Towson's Jacie Kendall, who scored four goals. "I think that's what everyone would have wanted, and on the field, that's where all that drama went away."

It was during one of the second-half ties when Love's family made its way to the area behind the Cavaliers' bench. Before long, Kalkstein and Caity Whiteley scored in a five-minute span to expand Virginia's lead to 13-11.

"When I saw them walking behind our team, I felt like we were suddenly going to be OK," Myers said. "I felt like they were going to be our extra emotion on the side."

Towson closed within a goal when Kendall scored with 3:09 left, but Finnigan finished a feed from Kaitlin Duff with 1:58 left and the Cavaliers proceeded to run out the clock.

Shortly after time expired, Virginia assembled on the field, where associate head coach Colleen Shearer handed out the '1' signs denoting Love's jersey number in what was arguably the day's defining and most touching moment.

"We were all surprised by it and excited by it," Myers said. "It was emotional. We were happy, we were exhausted, we were proud and we were sad. It was all kinds of everything. Then to see the Loves and to be able to show the 1s to the stands and the hill, I don't think we've
ever had Klockner that full."

And so they'll play on, an array of emotions sure to follow them to Chapel Hill and -- should they win next weekend -- onto the final four. The catharsis of one day, of simply starting to move forward, should help markedly.

Still, it's just a start for a group that is ever tighter and can't help but to have one -- or, more accurately, '1' -- thing on its collective minds.

"This shook us all," Kalkstein said. "It was just a crazy last two weeks and I think being together and trying to stay focused and coming out to practice is the strength we needed to be with each other and get through it."

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