Decision to participate in NCAA tournament was tough call in wake of tragedy

  • The University of Virginia decided Tuesday night that both lacrosse teams will compete in the NCAA tournament
  • The men are ranked No. 1 nationally, the women No. 5
  • The NCAA brackets will be announced Sunday

Shrouded by unimaginable heartache, the University of Virginia lacrosse programs will compete in their respective NCAA tournaments.

That word late Tuesday from Cavaliers athletic director Craig Littlepage.

To play or not to play? There was no right or wrong answer.

Yeardley Love, a senior defender on the women's team, is dead. George Huguely, a senior men's midfielder, is charged with her murder.

How can families and loved ones, coaches and teammates, think rationally? How are they not paralyzed by grief, anger, fear and confusion?

The NCAA on Sunday announces the fields for its Division I lacrosse tournaments. Virginia's men are ranked No. 1, the women No. 5. Both have won national championships, and both could win again.

But victory this season will come merely from participating.

What better way for coach Julie Myers' players to honor Love, to comfort one another, to publicly share their memories of a dear teammate?

What better way for coach Dom Starsia's players to sidestep the stigma of Huguely's alleged crime, to regain some degree of routine, to affirm their bond as a team?

Such is the athletes' code. Despite most any adversity, physical or emotional, competition is paramount.

But neither code nor expectations should have governed either team's decision. In fact, declining the NCAA bid would have been perfectly reasonable.

Certainly the lacrosse community, as tight a group as you'll find in sports, would have understood.

News of Love's murder and Huguely's arrest traveled at warp speed Monday, especially along the Washington-Boston corridor — Love and Huguely attended private high schools in Maryland — that produces most top-flight talent. Lacrosse folks who don't know either family know someone who does, and the anguish was palpable.

Complicating the issue: There are no regular-season games in which to regain footing. All that remains is postseason, the rite of passage by which both Virginia programs judge themselves.

Who could have blamed either team for avoiding that public cauldron and mourning privately?

"I am proud of the dignified way in which our students and coaches have responded to such a traumatic situation," Littlepage said in a statement Tuesday. "The parents of our students also have my appreciation for the way in which they mobilized, and joined us as plans were put together to assist the teams.

"Finally, it is comforting to see how the university community has rallied in support of all who have been touched by Yeardley's life and her passing."

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