Cavaliers Cope with Their One Love: Lacrosse
by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Game Blog
Virginia defensemen Ken Clausen (left) and Ryan Nizolek find cause for celebration Saturday during the top-seeded Cavaliers' 18-4 rout of Mount St. Mary's in an NCAA tournament first-round game.
© Matt Riley
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- There was no way
for Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia to know just
how his team would respond to nearly a fortnight of wrenching
No way for anyone to know, really, what sort of impact the murder charges against former teammate George Huguely in connection with the death of women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love earlier this month would have on the Cavaliers.
A dozen days later, top-seeded Virginia authored an 18-4 rout of Mount St. Mary’s to open the NCAA tournament. The score, though, was quickly forgotten as thoughts receded to the turmoil the Cavaliers (15-1) have endured.
“Emotionally, it’s been a tough ride,” goalie Adam Ghitelman said. “It’s been a rollercoaster. We’ve had to step up and kind of had iron hearts this past week. I think our team has come together as well as with the girls with helping each other out. For both teams, it’s win [or] you’re done.”
Virginia, for certain, isn’t done. Nor does it plan to be anytime soon.
The Cavaliers will visit eighth-seeded Stony Brook on May 23, the next step in the program’s all-too-public processing of events that thrust it into a national spotlight. Yet more than anything else, Saturday night’s victory clinched eight more days of practice and preparation, camaraderie and caring for the Cavaliers.
“With everything else going in, it was complicated for us,” Starsia said. “I really just wanted us to win so we had some more time. It would have been really hard if we had to disperse right now and I think it’s important we can stay together for another week and do something we do well together and kind of help each other.”
The indications of togetherness were evident even before the game. Virginia came out wearing shooting shirts that read “One Love” on the back, a tribute to Love’s jersey number. The 3,355 assembled at Klockner Stadium gave a raucous cheer when Starsia was introduced after a difficult stretch that included the death of his father just more than a week earlier.
And when the Cavaliers took the field, the unpleasantness of the reality away from the sport briefly faded. Virginia scored twice in the first four minutes, led 5-0 after a quarter and held a 12-1 edge at halftime.
“It always feels good to have a little bit of order back in your life,” midfielder Mikey Thompson said. “There’s a lot of time to think about things at a time like this. It’s definitely good to get back out there.”
Lacrosse, it would seem, is the best release available to the Cavaliers, be it the grieving coach or the stunned players. None even came close to discussing Huguely or the details surrounding Love’s death, and there were representatives from the school, the ACC and the NCAA stationed around all interviews to discourage any questions of
The game itself seemed a bit of a relief. Ghitelman was comfortable stopping nine shots, and Shamel Bratton zipped in three goals from the outside with as much ease as at any time this season. Both were more reserved when prodded about anything other than the game -- and understandably so.
The last two weeks provided a range of emotions, with about the only thing certain the sport they came to Virginia to play.
“Being out there practicing in general, it’s a good distraction,” midfielder Brian Carroll said. “It gives people a place to focus their energy and put their mind on something else. I think just practicing and playing together has helped everyone heal. It seemed like forever since we’d played, so we were sick of playing against each other and it was good to get out there tonight.”
And so the Cavaliers outshot the Mountaineers (12-5), dominated groundballs, were perfect in clears and didn’t give up an even-strength goal until the closing seconds of the third quarter.
For a couple hours, it was OK to ponder the possibility of a march to Memorial Day and the prospect of collecting the program’s fourth national title since 1999.
“This team moves the ball very well,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Tom Gravante said. “As I said in 2003 when we played them and they went on to win it, I won’t be surprised if these young men don’t win the whole thing again this year.”
For it to happen, Virginia must win three more games. More importantly, it must cope with circumstances more trying than could have possibly been fathomed just a couple weeks back.
Even after a tournament opener, it’s tough to tell what the final result will be this month.
If Saturday proved anything, though, it was that the Cavaliers will arrive at that outcome as a unified group.
“It’s been an emotional week and there’s been a lot involved,” Starsia said. “The lacrosse game in and of itself was not nearly the most important thing that was happening. I think winning the lacrosse game meant we got to stay together.”
comments powered by Disqus