Virginia's fourth consecutive appearance in the Final Four would usually be reason enough for a mild celebration.

But the Cavaliers have borne the emotional weight linked to the deaths of former midfielder Will Barrow in 2008, media relations assistant Michael Colley in 2009 and women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love a year ago.

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This season, Virginia dismissed senior midfielder and two-time first-team All American Shamel Bratton and suspended his twin brother Rhamel indefinitely.

The intra-program turmoil has taken a toll on the players and coaches, according to coach Dom Starsia.

"It's been quite a year," Starsia said Tuesday morning during an NCAA-organized conference call involving the four Division I coaches, two Division II coaches and two Division III coaches who will appear at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore this weekend. "It probably goes back a ways on both a personal and professional level. You're right about having to deal with these things in our world with what we do. I feel like the real world has sort of stuck its face into our fantasy land over some period of time. But I've been surrounded here by a lot of support – both family and friends and staff people here at UVA. We've kind of gotten through it as best as we can. Throughout this year, this team has had outstanding leadership, and it's been a group that has practiced well. It's a good group to be around. We struggled for a while mid-season while we worked through some things, but it's nice to see that the core of this team has been able to reap the benefits of their work throughout here in these past couple of weeks."

Unlike the other semifinal between No. 5 seed Duke and unseeded Maryland, the No. 7 seed Cavaliers (11-5) meet a No. 6 seed Denver squad (15-2) it hasn't seen since Feb. 20, 2006.

That unfamiliarity has excited the Virginia players and coaches, Starsia said.

"Frankly, it's a little more fun in the preparation piece of it rather than just getting ready to play someone that you know almost as well as your own team," he said. "Obviously, Denver is very, very good, and we're going to have our hands full. So I don't know if there's a preference one way or the other, an advantage one way or the other. At this point of the year, you want to play two more games, and you need to win the first one in order to make that happen."

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