Beware of definitive truths for top-ranked Virginia in its NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinal at Stony Brook Sunday. The obvious favorite against No. 8 Stony Brook, theoretically full of belief and steeped in talent capable of winning the national title but staggered by a May 3 slaying within its own tight community, Virginia continues to put one doubtful foot in front of the other.
Sunday's will be Virginia's second game since the arrest of team member George Huguely in the death of Virginia women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love, and nothing is certain beyond the fact that both of the school's teams will attempt to keep on keeping on. (Virginia's women, sixth-seeded in their tournament, play at No. 3 North Carolina in a Saturday quarterfinal.)
"People ask me how we're doing," said men's coach Dom Starsia, "and I say we're doing the best we can. Our lives have been changed forever. I can offer no expertise here, but I can and will offer everything else I have for these young men and women."
Along with Starsia, who was raised in Valley Stream, Virginia has nine Long Islanders on its player roster, making Sunday's game a homecoming of sorts with a sellout crowd in excess of 8,000 expected at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium. A veritable lacrosse festival, except that Virginia is feeling its way through a world of hurt.
"I've spoken to a couple of guys down there," said Stony Brook goalie Charlie Paar, who has former Huntington High teammates and other close friends on the Virginia team. "They're just trying to get through it. I give them all the credit in the world. They seem to be doing OK. But you never know."
Amid the ongoing legal process - Huguely's next hearing is scheduled for June 10 - and countless questions, there are no real answers. "With something like this, people don't know what to do. They're confused," said Dr. Allan Lans, a Columbia University psychiatry professor who spent 18 years as the Mets' team psychiatrist.
The teams should continue to play, Lans said. "The ship has to sail," he said. "But will things ever be normal again? What's the right thing? As if there is a right thing to do. How do you counsel these kids? Look, they're athletes, and I know athletes are not supposed to discuss and have feelings, but everyone has to have feelings about this. . . . This one, you can't rub a little dirt on it."
Further, there is the public nature of the calamity, prompting University of Virginia officials to shield players from reporters and for Starsia and women's coach Julie Myers to confront matters beyond the playing field. "We know we're part of the story," Myers said yesterday. "But we're sticking to our purpose, which is trying to heal and trying to play lacrosse. Lacrosse is our thing and our vehicle for staying together."
This week, Starsia - whose father died just four days after the May 3 slaying, taking him away from his team for several days - organized a dinner for members of both teams at his home. "I told our kids early on," he said, "that there was just no road map for us in a situation like this, and my own situation at home popped up. All I could do was kind of stand up as straight as I could, be as honest as I could and offer myself to anyone who asked.
"What I've been struck with is what you don't always see in this profession - the emotional side of college-age males. They're not afraid to talk to each other and to me a little bit."
Then, of course, there is Huguely. Should Starsia reach out to him? "I don't know where that one goes yet," Starsia said. "I'm not prepared to answer that at this moment. Certainly, it's something I've thought about a lot."
Meanwhile, he said, "We're moving forward. Slowly."