The NCAA lacrosse playoffs continue this weekend with Final Four berths on the line for both the Carolina men and women. That the Heels are competing this weekend to advance to the national semifinals is not unusual, given that the men are four-time national champs and the women played in the national title game last year. No, what's unusual is who each team is playing.
Many casual sports fans would have little knowledge of college lacrosse but for two tragic events over the past few years - the false accusations leveled against the Duke men's lacrosse team in 2006 and the unfathomable murder of a Virginia women's lacrosse player by her boyfriend earlier this month.
Well whaddya know, today the Carolina men will play Duke in Princeton, NJ, while the women will host an emotional Virginia team in Chapel Hill.
The connections between the two cases and UNC run deep. Obviously beyond the rivalry aspect with the Devils, the Duke case was prosecuted by a UNC grad and shone an unfavorable light on the criminal justice system in North Carolina. On the other hand, Carolina women's coach Jenny Levy is a Virginia graduate and remains close to the Cavalier program, reaching out to her former teammate, UVa coach Julie Miller, with words of support during this trying time.
Last weekend the Heels painted their toenails orange in support of the Virginia women. And like a number of teams across the country, for the past few games, the Carolina women have worn orange sweatbands with the initials of Yeardley Love, the Virginia senior who was slain, and they will do so again today. There will also be a moment of silence before today's game.
Duke's men, meanwhile, have recovered from the sting of their scandal and have returned to the elite of college lacrosse, playing for the national title in 2007 and making the playoffs each year since their season was suspended in 2006.
So while it's OK to hate Duke again, in victory or defeat your heart has to go out to the Virginia women for putting the pieces together and taking the field again.
UPDATE: The Carolina women routed UVa 17-7 setting up a rematch of last year's title game, as the Heels will face five-time defending champ Northwestern on Friday.
UPDATE X2: Carolina's men receive a beatdown at the hands of the Evil Empire, 17-9. Duke hung 7 goals in the first quarter and were never seriously challenged by the Heels, who have lost 12 of their last 13 against the Devils.