Virginia falls to Duke, 14-13, in NCAA men's lacrosse semifinals
Sunday, May 30, 2010
BALTIMORE -- Coach Dom Starsia received a round of applause in the Virginia men's lacrosse locker room from his players, many of whom displayed the raw emotion that has been too common in recent weeks.
The top-seeded Cavaliers had just suffered a last-minute, 14-13 loss to fifth-seeded Duke in the national semifinals on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, ending their season and leaving them stunned almost four weeks after the death of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love, allegedly at the hands of men's lacrosse player George Huguely.
During that span, Starsia's father died while his program fell under scrutiny. Starsia remained publicly silent during the ongoing police investigation. His players remained staunchly loyal, and they wanted their coach to be aware of their affection minutes after they suffered one of the most difficult defeats of their lives.
"The final score may be the least important part of what has transpired here all spring," Starsia said. "I love what I do. These young men, the practices and games and bus trips. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do this."
The game was decided when Duke's Max Quinzani darted a shot over the right shoulder of Cavaliers goalie Adam Ghitelman with 12 seconds remaining for the final goal of a back-and-forth game.
The loss meant the Cavaliers' outgoing senior class is the first to depart Virginia without a national championship since 1998. It's the class that included Huguely, whose arrest left a shadow over the program and forced the seniors to try to conclude their career amid turmoil they never envisioned.
"To not leave with a national championship is obviously disappointing," senior Ryan Nizolek said. "It's why you come to the University of Virginia. But given the circumstances of this year, I couldn't be prouder of these guys. . . . In order for this team to get better and get through everything we were going through, we as seniors had to step up and be there for Dom especially."
The men's team pledged to play in honor of the women's team and the Love family. Women's lacrosse player Caity Whiteley, who was Love's roommate, could be seen on the big screen at M&T Bank Stadium. At one point, senior Mikey Thompson spotted Love's sister on the same screen.
"For both the men's team and the women's team to come out in the NCAA tournament, so close to what happened, and for the women's team to win their first game and for us to win our first two, it's unbelievable what we've been able to accomplish," senior captain Ken Clausen said. "We couldn't ask for anything more as the men's team. We received so much support from them and continue to do so."
Love's May 3 death came shortly after Virginia concluded the regular season ranked No. 1. After the athletic department determined that the Cavaliers would participate in the postseason, they were awarded the tournament's top seed and were viewed as the tournament's favorite.
But Virginia could not avoid the Blue Devils, who have dominated the Cavaliers in recent seasons. Before Virginia's victory over Duke on April 23, the Cavaliers had lost eight consecutive games to Duke. A new streak started Saturday after Duke scored nine second-half goals in large part because of its dominance in time of possession and at the X, where the Blue Devils won 19 of 30 faceoffs.
When the game finally ended, some Virginia players slowly trudged off the field while others crouched in disbelief. Starsia stood idly at a distance. He enters an offseason unlike any other he's experienced.
"I'm probably in a little different place than other years or at the end of a different season," Starsia said. "I can't say for sure. There are a lot of people who helped me stand up and get through this."
Huguely is due in court June 10, and the teammates with whom he spent much of four years undressed from Virginia uniforms for the last time. To many outside the locker room, this year's team will be remembered by what happened on May 3. The players want to be remembered for what they did in these days after.
"It'd be very easy for us to have kind of fragmented with what had gone on," Clausen said. "I think it could have gone in so many other different directions. For us to kind of rally behind each other and support each other, I think that's been unbelievable."