This past weekend was obviously an emotional one for both the men's and women's lacrosse teams, who each defeated their first-round NCAA Championship opponents in Klockner Stadium. As we look ahead towards the quarterfinals, for which both teams will be traveling, it will be interesting to see whether this emotion will carry them into the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend, and just how the teams will be received when they're on the road.
"Obviously this is a really hard time," said senior Kaitlin Duff. "But so many people have reached out to us, so many different teams and different people. And I just think seeing everyone being so positive and so nice really helps our team and helps us get stronger."
On the men's side, the No. 1 seeded Cavaliers (15-1) will be taking on 8th seeded Stony Brook (13-3). The Cavaliers are the heavy favorites to make it to Baltimore next weekend, but there are obviously a number of factors still in play here: you wonder about the mental ability to stay tough, even after a tremendous 18-4 performance against Mount St. Mary's last week; Stony Brook is playing on their own home soil with their own home crowd; oh, and Stony Brook is looking to avenge a 13-8 loss to the Cavaliers from back in February.
The women's side is going to be tougher. The 'Hoos (14-5) are the 6 seed and will be traveling to 3rd seeded North Carolina for their quarterfinals contest. Even taking aside the underdog aspect of this matchup, the women are facing a lot of the same factors the men are – the Heels are on their home turf and are also looking to avenge an earlier loss. Virginia beat Carolina, then ranked No. 3 nationally, 13-12 in overtime.
The loss of Yeardley Love still weighs heavily on both of these teams. The men already know what it's like to lose a teammate, having lost teammate Will Barrow in November 2008 in an apparent suicide.
"Honestly, Will's still in our hearts and minds every day," fourth-year Max Pomper said back in February.
Teammate Ken Clausen last Saturday night had two sets of initials inscribed on his eye blacks last Saturday night – on one side W.B., on the other, Y.L.
With heavy hearts, the teams play on this weekend. But how will they, particularly the women's team, perform without a Virginia crowd at their backs? I have no doubt that the Carolina coaches and players are going to show nothing but class for our team. The lacrosse community is a small one; the ACC is even smaller.
For UVa's first-round game, the Towson Tigers wore orange wristbands with the initials Y.L. inscribed. Following the game, Towson players gave the Virginia players pins of an angel holding a lacrosse stick.
I predict that both teams will advance to the Final Four. Road game or not, there's a certain level of accomplishment that you experience when you make it to Memorial Day weekend. I think the emotions of both teams alone will carry them to victory this weekend. For the women, a crowd of 800+ screaming Tar Heels will still sound like the calming encouragement of 2,000+ Cavaliers. Plus, don't be surprised when you see a large orange contingency at Fetzer Field.
"It was a special feeling out there," said women's head coach Julie Myers of Sunday's game.