Virginia's emotion-filled women's lacrosse season ends with 17-7 loss to North Carolina in 2010 NCAA tournament

North Carolina's Becky Lynch, left, embraces U-Va.'s Caroline McTiernan, on a day when the Tar Heels reached the Final Four.
North Carolina's Becky Lynch, left, embraces U-Va.'s Caroline McTiernan, on a day when the Tar Heels reached the Final Four. (Corey Lowenstein/associated Press)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2010

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The players on the Virginia women's lacrosse team remained huddled on the sideline for more than five minutes after a 17-7 loss to North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, long after their opponent dispersed, and as parents and supporters waited patiently.

It was the final game of the Cavaliers' season, and nearly three weeks since one of their teammates, Yeardley Love, was found dead. Coach Julie Myers kept the team together for those extended minutes, just as she kept the team together during the previous 19 days, in which Virginia men's lacrosse player George Huguely was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Love's death. Now, Myers needed to let them go under circumstances she never envisioned and the players never imagined.

"I don't think there's any way you can really move on from this," senior Brittany Kalkstein said.

When Myers first spoke with a group of reporters after the NCAA tournament draw was revealed earlier this month, with Virginia seeded sixth, she voiced concern about how the team would grieve once the season concluded. Players who were galvanized by the notion of remaining together after Love's death on May 3 will now head in different directions.

For Love's fellow seniors, the first step will be Sunday's graduation -- where Love will receive a posthumous degree -- followed by uncertain futures. For the younger players, there will be a few months before the team reconvenes when school resumes.

"I don't think that we were ever going to be completely ready to go our own ways," Myers said. "Even if the season was just starting right now, I would say we would need every week together. But I do think that we've got a solid foundation. We know how to connect with one another, we know how to lean on each other, and we can kind of read each other's moods a little bit. So, I do think we are a little further ahead."

Virginia's top three seniors all spoke about Love after the loss, in which the Cavaliers (14-6) appeared both overmatched and exhausted. Senior Kaitlin Duff said Love was always positive, and Love would not want her friends to focus on the negative. A team that overcame three players lost to major knee injuries during the season now has the benefit of perspective.

"It's the phone call that we got three weeks ago that we knew wasn't going to be fixed in the hospital," Myers said.

The seniors spoke about how much they've learned during the past three weeks -- about themselves, about each other and about a community that has supported them. Granville Swope, Love's uncle, told them that they were "everyone's team." Swope wrote in a Friday e-mail to Myers and the team, "I won't miss a second of the game. Yeardley will be there too." The Love family did not attend the game, but Love's mother sent the team a message that has since become a rallying cry: "1,2,3,4, Go 'Hoos!"

Time has elapsed, but the remembrances for Love continued. There was a moment of silence before the game, and North Carolina's players wore orange sweatbands in Love's honor. The Cavaliers' road jersey again had the black "Love" patch that the players wore at home last week, and they warmed up before the game in the blue shirts that read "One Team. One Heart. One Love."

A father of a North Carolina player walked around the stadium distributing white ribbons as part of a campaign to stop violence against women. A large contingent of orange-clad Virginia supporters filled the bleachers across from the Cavaliers' part of the sideline. Many wore patches or ribbons as tributes to Love.

North Carolina Coach Jenny Levy, a college teammate of Myers at Virginia, cried during a postgame news conference while recounting her embrace with Myers. Immediately after the game's conclusion, Myers also hugged Kalkstein and shared feelings of love and pride and resilience.

One of Virginia's veteran players said to the team after the game, "There's not a question in anyone's mind that we all love each other." And that was exactly Myers's message to her group during the huddle, when a team full of women remembered the one who was not with them.

"We've definitely established the unconditional love for one another," Myers said. "To see what these guys have gone through, and to see the direction they've all moved in together as a team, it's been amazing."

Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.

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