- Dom Starsia has coached U.Va. to three national championships
- The volume of alcohol offenses raise a red flag
- A trial of George Huguely may ultimately determine Starsia's job security
Given his success, popularity and integrity, Dom Starsia stands alone among University of Virginia coaches.
In 18 seasons he has guided the men's lacrosse program to 12 Final Fours and three national championships, with a fourth possible this weekend. Two years ago, he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Throughout, Starsia has remained remarkably humble, endearing himself to co-workers, rivals, fans and folk. He and his wife, Krissy, are parents to 24-year-old special needs twin daughters.
Yet even as the Cavaliers prepare for Saturday's NCAA tournament semifinal against Duke, their season is permanently stained by not only the murder charge against senior midfielder George Huguely but also, as first reported by the Washington Post, repeated alcohol offenses by current players.
It is that latter trend for which Starsia is accountable and where he may have been too tolerant or unaware.
I hedge because, due to the criminal probe, Starsia can't say much. But there's no denying that alcohol charges against eight current Cavaliers are disturbing.
Yes, two were acquitted, including defenseman Ken Clausen, a Scholar All-American. And yes, some of the charges — underage possession and drinking in public — are relatively tame.
But the volume raises red flags.
The lone suspect in the May 3 beating death of his former girlfriend, women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love, Huguely pleaded guilty in 2008 to multiple counts after a drunken encounter with Lexington police. Moreover, on separate occasions before Love's murder, he attacked Love and a teammate.
Starsia, his assistants and players will forever wonder how they missed such obvious warnings.
Part of the problem is a lacrosse culture that, like rugby, is steeped in excessive drinking.
Part of the problem may have been Starsia's program. A trial, if there is one, will shed further light and perhaps determine Starsia's job security — pronouncing him fit or unfit absent additional facts is premature.
Encouraged by Love's family, Virginia's lacrosse teams accepted bids to the NCAA tournament. The women lost in the quarterfinals Saturday to North Carolina; a day later the men defeated Stony Brook to reach a semifinal of cruel coincidence.
Four years ago, Duke abandoned its lacrosse season after three players were accused of rape. Coach Mike Pressler was forced to resign, the players were exonerated and prosecutor Mike Nifong was disbarred.
The Blue Devils have since advanced to four consecutive Final Fours but have yet to win the title. They are 14-4 and the only team to defeat Virginia this season; the Cavaliers are 16-1, ranked No. 1 and playing for a cause — Love's teammates.
"Those girls deserve everything," goalie Adam Ghitelman said. "We're going to play the rest of the season for them."
Starsia, who lost his father to cancer four days after Love's murder, knows better than to discourage such sentiment.
"To carry that burden, that's just the way it is," he said. "I'm certainly not going to deny it. … These young men and women seem willing to talk to each other and talk to me. In some cases we've just leaned on each other."
The leaning continues this weekend at a Final Four unlike any other.
"I'm not exactly sure," Starsia said, "what normal is these days."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com
. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
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