- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

Joe Yevoli knows his experience today will be unusual. He’ll suit up for a lacrosse game between top-five teams at Virginia, something he has done often in the last four years.

Only this time, he’ll be stepping out of the visitors’ locker room as a member of No.5 Syracuse (1-0).

The Long Island native returns to Charlottesville less than a year after a somewhat messy departure from the third-ranked Cavaliers (4-0). It was an exit few expected from an attackman who scored 82 goals in three seasons and helped Virginia win the national title in 2003.

However, a back injury forced him to sit out all of last season, and Yevoli began to think about moving on after finishing his sociology degree that semester. He decided to leave in May, but to Yevoli’s chagrin, Virginia coach Dom Starsia waited another month before granting an unconditional release.

In most sports, no one would have noticed the wait. In the tight-knit lacrosse community, though, an imbroglio between one of the nation’s finest coaches and a star player captured the attention of many.

“People made it seem like I hated it down there and I wanted to get out, and that me and Coach Starsia were at each others’ throats,” Yevoli said. “The biggest problem for me was once I asked for my release, things were delayed so long I didn’t know what school I was going to end up at. Since it took so long, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get in anywhere. I thought my lacrosse career was over. The summer literally became depressing.”

The situation wasn’t easy for Starsia, either. He said he learned of Yevoli’s request in the middle of the NCAA tournament and didn’t receive it face-to-face from one of his top scholarship players.

“He chose to leave me a voice mail before we go off to the quarterfinals that he wanted his release,” Starsia said. “The fact I wasn’t prepared to do it that instant, it seemed it wasn’t the news he wanted to hear. I felt like I needed some time to get my life organized. We had another week of the playoffs and it took a while. By the first of July, he had his release. I just didn’t think it was extraordinary to absorb his request and process it. …

“People implied that in the end there was a huge problem. I was just disappointed he and I didn’t sit down and sort it out.”

Yevoli landed at Syracuse, where he is taking graduate classes, but his life was further shaken last fall when his father, Joe, was diagnosed with cancer. For a time, Yevoli thought he would have to give up school to care for his dad. However, Yevoli said his father is doing “pretty well” with the help of some alternative medicines.

That allowed Yevoli to continue his career at Syracuse. He played his first game in nearly 21 months last weekend, scoring two goals and adding two assists against Army.

“When I first got back in practice, it was just another thing,” Yevoli said. “I was kind of concerned. It was hard to get up for practice. I worried I lost a competitive edge. Once that first game arrived, it was a whole different story. I remembered what it was like to play games and the mind-set I needed. It’s great to finally play again.”

Even at his old home. Yevoli is looking forward to seeing some old friends today and said he didn’t have a vendetta against his former teammates. Still, he anticipates his visit to Klockner Stadium might create a few uncomfortable moments.

“I think it’s going to be really weird,” Yevoli said. “I kind of expect to be booed a little bit. No one wants to be booed. I think the weirdest thing is that the visitor and home locker rooms are directly facing each other. When I walk out, I’ll be looking into the home locker room. It’s going to be really awkward.”

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