May 29, 2010

For First Time, Virginia's Starsia at a Loss

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

NCAA DIVISION I SEMIFINALS: DUKE 14, VIRGINIA 13

* Quinzani's Late Goal Lifts Duke over UVA
* Crotty, Clausen Tango to the End
* For First Time, Virginia's Starsia at Loss
* NCAA Championships Blog

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central


Virginia men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia stands alone as Duke players behind him celebrate their NCAA semifinal victory. Uncertainty surrounds Starsia's future at UVA, where men's lacrosse player George Huguely was chraged with the murder of a women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love.

© Matt Riley

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Dom Starsia wore the look of a man who was beaten not just by another lacrosse team, but also by life’s uncalculated hardships.
 
About a half hour earlier, Starsia stood listless on the faded 30-yard line at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The 44,389 fans in attendance erupted for Duke. Max Quinzani’s goal with 12 seconds remaining lifted the Blue Devils to a 14-13 victory over top-seeded Virginia in the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse semifinals.
 
The Cavaliers’ emotional season, marred by the disturbing allegations against midfielder George Huguely in the murder of Virginia women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love, was over.
 
As his players consoled each other, Starsia remained alone with his arms crossed, his eyes lost in a thousand-yard stare. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage found Starsia outside the fray and put his arm around the 58-year-old head coach.
 
Starsia acknowledged Littlepage, then returned his gaze forward. He plodded through the post-game handshakes and with a slow gait exited the field into the tunnel.
 
When Starsia emerged at the press conference podium, he looked defeated and deflated. He has at times been the sport’s most vocal and approachable representative, but not on Saturday.
 
“These are hard,” he started. “I don’t want it to end like this… It’s been a fairly, um, extraordinary spring in so many ways…”
 
Some among the press corps wondered if Starsia would resign then and there.
 
This trying month also included the death of Starsia’s father, who lost a long bout with various forms of cancer. It’s also included an unwanted spotlight on the program he has led to three national championships; some in the national media have suggested a lack of accountability for his players, namely Huguely.
 
Starsia fumbled for words.

“You know. I love what I do,” he continued. “These young men, the practices, the games, the bus trips, it’s… I’m grateful that I had an opportunity to do this and I’m grateful that I had an opportunity to work with these guys. This doesn’t diminish who they are and what they’ve battled through, the men they are and the qualities they’ve shown.”
 
With his somber tone, it did not sound at all like the Starsia people in the lacrosse community know.
 
“When the talk is lacrosse, he’s alive,” said Virginia assistant coach Marc Van Arsdale. “But when it turns to all the other things that have transpired the last month, he’s a little more closed.”
 
Uncertainty surrounds Starsia’s future with the university, where he’s been a fixture for 18 years. Asked what he will do this offseason, Starsia again struggled to find an answer and was evasive at best.
 
“I have so many people to thank… I feel like there’s so much to do personally that… Certainly we’re in a little different place now than in different seasons… I can’t say for sure,” he said. “I probably need to figure that out a little bit before I jump into recruiting, which is what we normally do.”
 
Van Arsdale would not say if Starsia’s job was in jeopardy.
 
“I can’t comment on that,” he said. “I’m not the person to comment on that and even if I knew anything, I couldn’t really say anything to anyone.”
 
Duke head coach John Danowski, who dealt with his share of the national spotlight when he overtook a lacrosse program beset by false rape allegations against three of its former players in 2006-07, sympathized with Starsia.
 
“As a fellow coach, you empathize with the plight of those situations which are unfathomable for most of us,” he said. “There’s no rulebook or manual on how to deal with those things. It’s extremely difficult. When I came to Duke, while I came in after the fact, it was difficult, but not what they’re going through.”
 
Whatever Starsia’s fate, the 2010 season has clearly taken its toll on the Hall of Fame coach, but never at the expense of his players.
 
“The team gets portrayed as going through so much, but he’s gone through as much or more, with his dad and everything,” sophomore attackman Steele Stanwick said. “He just showed so much strength throughout this season. It’s amazing how he gave us everything he had every day. He showed tremendous strength and character throughout this whole season.”
 
After the press conference, Starsia returned to the Virginia locker room. Reporters followed him there. They peppered him with questions for 10 minutes after the allotted interview time. A reporter tried to get in one last question. NCAA officials said no.
 
As they closed the door, Starsia lifted his gaze to the reporter and almost managed a smile.
 
“Just call me,” he said.


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