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Friday May 6, 2011 Yeardley Love's memory remains strong for a pair of Gators as lacrosse postseason opens

Caroline Cochran and Caitlyn McFadden are currently immersed in preparation for Florida’s first-round game in the ALC tournament on Friday in Nashville. They have all week attended practices and team meetings and taken part in other duties associated with the arrival of the postseason, one the fourth-ranked Gators hope ends with a celebratory tone.

Still, this week has also been something else. Something very different and far removed from the game on the field. It has been a time of reflection for Cochran, a junior attacker for the Gators, and McFadden, in her first season as a Florida assistant coach following a distinguished career as a player at the University of Maryland.

Yeardley Love

A year ago this week – May 3, 2010 – Cochran, McFadden and the entire lacrosse community suffered the kind of loss greater than any will ever meet on the field. Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old player at the University of Virginia who was about to graduate, was found dead in her off-campus apartment.

Love was reportedly beaten to death, a crime that George Huguely, a former boyfriend and also a UVA lacrosse player, later confessed to. He was charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

On the day that news spread of Love’s death, Cochran was moving out of her UF dorm after finishing her first school year at UF. She started her college career at Virginia, hosted by Love and Cavaliers teammate Kaitlin Duff on her recruiting visit.

The bubbly Love made an instant connection with Cochran as they hung out over a long weekend.

“She was an awesome girl,’’ Cochran said. “She was really a good role model for the freshmen who came in. She was a lot of fun, really caring, and ended up being a good friend.’’

Love showed Cochran around campus, took her out to eat, showed her the team’s facilities and did everything she could to make Cochran feel as welcome as possible.

That sounds exactly like the Love we have heard about from so many different voices since her untimely death.

McFadden knew the same Love. She grew up in Maryland with Love, playing on the same recreation league teams as a kid, a team that McFadden’s mom coached. They both later attended Notre Dame Prep in the Baltimore area, sharing the same homeroom and same giggles starting in sixth grade.

Their friendship continued when McFadden opted to attend Maryland and Love decided to go to Virginia. As ACC rivals, they played against each other regularly and always took time to catch up with each other’s lives before and after games.

“She was the same person I knew growing up,’’ McFadden said.

At the time of Love’s death last year, the NCAA Tournament was about to start. While they continued to grieve, Love’s Cavalier teammates responded by making a dramatic run in the postseason that captured national attention.

Gators lacrosse player Ashley Bruns

McFadden watched from afar with a mix of profound sadness at the loss of her friend on one hand, and appreciation of how the lacrosse community responded to Love’s tragic murder on the other.

“This has just brought everybody closer,’’ said McFadden, whose Maryland team would go on to win the NCAA title over Northwestern. “A lot of it has to do with Yeardley’s family and how they have just sent the message out to keep her spirit alive and how they have stayed really positive.

“I think it’s been really good for the lacrosse community. They have stayed away from commenting about any negative thing that you might see coming from this. They just want to do as much good as they can.’’

(Photo: UF lacrosse player Ashley Bruns wearing a wristband the Gators wear to honor Love).

As part of the family’s movement to honor Yeardley, her mother Sharon and sister Lexie created the One Love Foundation, an organization devoted to “encourage and develop in children and young adults four qualities that Yeardley exemplified: service, kindness, humility and sportsmanship.’’

McFadden wears a constant reminder of her friend around her wrist.

“I wear my One Love band every day,’’ McFadden said. “It’s always there as a reminder of her. It’s really important. It’s just so good to see that her spirit is living on and everyone that is involved with One Love works hard to remember her and how positive she was and how much she loved life.’’

McFadden will have the wristband on today when the Gators face Ohio State. Several Gators and countless players from around the country will also have them on.

Cochran was reminded this week of that day a year ago when she first heard the news. Her stomach was in knots. She couldn’t eat or sleep.

“I was really upset by it,’’ Cochran said. “There was a lot of commotion that day. I had to be out of my dorm at a certain time and I was very upset, and thankfully my friends down here really helped and tried to make it as best as possible.’’

 Still close to many of her former teammates at Virginia, Cochran said Love’s impact on the Cavaliers and in the lacrosse community remains a source of inspiration.

Cochran speaks to Virginia junior Bailey Fogarty, her former roommate, at least a couple of times a week. There are good days and bad days, but Cochran senses that Love remains a huge part of the team when she talks to her friends at Virginia.

“I know it’s a hard time for them right now,’’ she said. “It was very hard when it happened and the last year. They are doing well. They have coped with it and they have done the best they can to try to move on and make people aware of her situation.

 “It’s just tragic that this had to happen to a wonderful person who cared so much for a lot of people.’’

What has become clear in the wake of Love’s death is that so many people cared for her, too.

McFadden got an up-close-and-personal experience of Love’s impact a year ago, attending Love’s viewing a few days after her death. She was unable to make the funeral because Maryland faced Dartmouth in its final regular-season game that day.

But as McFadden led the Terrapins to the national title – earning NCAA Player of the Year along the way – she couldn’t help but keep a close eye on Virginia’s run through the tournament.

There was no doubt in her mind that Love was everywhere.

“I was excited to see that her team could find a way to really stay together,’’ McFadden said. “There was so much support for them. That showed a lot about them because it was such a tough situation.’’

If there’s one thing McFadden would like all those who never met Love to know about her friend, she said it would be this:

“Yeardley was an amazing and caring person I’m glad I met. Her story and her spirit have touched so many lives, even people who never met her,’’ McFadden said. “They are like the nicest family I have ever met.

“Their last name really does describe them and is a perfect fit.’’

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