CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina women's lacrosse coach Jenny Levy sent Virginia coach Julie Myers a text message at the conclusion of the Cavaliers' NCAA tournament game Sunday, congratulating her on the victory over Towson and emphasizing the Tar Heels' support for UVa as it mourned the death of senior defender Yeardley Love.
It didn't matter that the schools are scheduled to meet in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament on Saturday. Levy, who was a teammate with Myers at Virginia, saw it as the least she could do for a friend dealing with a crisis.
Over the past few weeks, Myers' program has been thrust into the national spotlight surrounding the death of Love, 22, the Virginia women's lacrosse player who was allegedly murdered by a member of the men's lacrosse team.
"It's hard for me to imagine, when I put myself in their shoes, the amount of pain, sorrow and intensity of this situation," Levy said Thursday before her team took the practice field.
From a distance, Levy and her players have followed the news out of Charlottesville, Va., shocked by the reports that have sent tremors through the small lacrosse community.
George Huguely, 22, of Chevy Chase, Md., Love's former boyfriend, has been jailed and charged with first-degree murder. According to police reports, he admitted kicking his way into Love's apartment and fighting with her. His lawyer, however, has said her death was an accident.
Lacrosse supporters and Virginia alumni around the country have shown an outpouring of sympathy for the lacrosse program. Many teams have worn orange wristbands with Love's initials on them. The Heels wore them last week and will again Saturday.
"It's a way for us to support Virginia and let them know that we're thinking about them, and we're here for them," UNC senior midfielder Jenn Russell said.
There will be a "moment of silence" observed for Love before Saturday's game.
"This has touched everyone, not only my former teammates and the alumni, but really the lacrosse world," Myers said Wednesday. "It's been amazing how many people we've heard from and how many people have been supportive."
Still, both coaches talked extensively about focusing on the game.
"We want to be empathetic, we want to be supportive of the situation at Virginia," Levy said. "At the same time, we want to show our respect for their program. ... Virginia is coming here to play their best lacrosse, and we obviously want to play our best lacrosse."
On Monday, Levy met with her team to discuss the emotional situation surrounding the game, checking on player's feelings about Love and encouraging them to separate her death from playing.
UNC's coaches and players were familiar with the Virginia senior defender as a player, though none of them had a first-hand personal connection with her.
Levy, the ACC's co-coach of the year, added, "I thought it was important that I let my team know they had permission to prepare to be the best they could be on Saturday."
The third-seeded Heels (16-2) host the sixth-seeded Cavaliers (14-5) at Fetzer Field, a game that pits two of the nation's top teams in a contest that will determine who advances to the tournament's semifinals.
Earlier in the season, the Cavaliers upset the Heels in a 13-12 overtime victory in Charlottesville.
After securing an 18-5 victory over Navy in the NCAA tournament's first round, the Heels have spent this week preparing for their opponents, hoping to avoid the mistakes that led to their defeat back on March 13.
"We're playing great," Russell said. "Everyone's really found their role, and that's really important at the end of the season. If everyone does their job well, we'll do great."
Russell, who has 39 points this season, has been named as one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the nation's top women's lacrosse player. Part of the Heels up-tempo attack, she is sure to be marked by Virginia.
Spectators, though, are likely to focus just as much attention on the circumstances surrounding Saturday's game, considering the Cavaliers will be on the road for the first time since Love died.
"It's something that's obviously hit home for everyone," UNC junior Logan Ripley said.
Levy, who as a player won a national championship at Virginia with Myers in 1991, said they remain good friends.
Last week, the Cavaliers played their first game since Love's death, an emotional 14-12 victory over Towson in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Charlottesville. The event attracted 2,270 fans and national media coverage, which is expected again for Saturday's 1 p.m. faceoff.
UNC players painted their toenails orange last week in support of the Cavaliers. They are not likely to repeat that this weekend, though it's clear the UVa program holds a special place in their thoughts.
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