Duke's Kim Wenger knew of late Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love through their ACC battles. Maryland's Dan Burns shared mutual friends with Love, a Cockeysville, Md., native.
Although they didn't know Love personally, they heard about the kindness and selflessness cited by those close to her.
Now, as the inaugural winners of the Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award, they feel a special bond with Love, who was beaten to death in her off-campus apartment a year ago, allegedly by her former boyfriend, Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V, who has been indicted for her murder.
"I feel closer to her now," says Wenger, a junior midfielder. "I was so honored to represent the qualities this award stands for. I was flattered."
"From everything I've heard about her, you can tell she was an awesome person," says Burns, a senior midfielder. "And she's the type of person I would have liked to be friends with."
The Yeardley Reynolds Unsung Hero Award recognizes an athlete who helps his or her team succeed in ways that doesn't normally earn praise. Love earned the Bette and Money Yates Unsung Hero Award at Virginia for her dedication and leadership. The award bearing her name comes from the One Love Foundation (a salute to her number), an organization established by her family, and will be given annually to one male and one female ACC player.
During the nomination process, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel wrote about Wenger's leadership. The midfielder has served on the Team Council --essentially a leadership board with at least one member of each class -- all three seasons and has worked with coaches to help the team get on the same page.
Wenger, who is from Malvern, Pa., was a two-time All-America in high school and a student body president for three years. She played in all 21 games as a freshman and as a sophomore was a starter and led the team in ground balls (40). "I've never been a huge attacker," Wenger says. "There's more focus on the 50/50-type situations and just going hard."
She hasn't foregone all recognition. Twice this season, she's earned ACC player of the week honors (once on defense and once on offense). But the little things she does to help her team -- from cutting highlight films for her teammates to just being there when another players needs her -- often go unnoticed by outsiders. Even as she addresses winning this individual award, she puts her team first. She points out that there are "so many of my teammates that could have been recognized with this same honor," and she credits them for making it possible for her to win.
Their cohesion as a unit seems to be helping on the playing field, too, as Wenger and the Blue Devils beat No. 9 Penn last weekend to reach the quarterfinals. Also qualifying for the quarterfinals? Burns and Maryland, in the men's draw.
Burns wasn't an instant contributor like Wenger, but he has earned the respect of his teammates throughout his four years. Now a team captain, Burns started his college lacrosse career as a walk-on. He wasn't sure if he even wanted to play in college, but after graduating from Severna Park (Md.) High, he took his shot with the Terrapins.
The fifth-year senior doesn't earn much recognition on the field, and he only has four career goals. But he contributes in ways that don't show up on the stat sheet. "I just like doing a lot of stuff other people don't get enjoying doing," he says. "I like getting ground balls. I like clearing the ball."
Burns also helped get his team involved with the Big Brother program. Every Friday, a group of players travel to a D.C.-area elementary school and meet with their little brothers. Burns was part of a small initial group of about five players that helped. Soon, there were 15 players traveling to spend an hour or more each week. Sometimes, they help with homework or projects. Other times, they go outside and play. Burns works with an 8-year-old, and he talks about how important it is to be a consistent part of his life.
Like on the field, Burns is filling an important role that comes without much recognition. "Playing my position, doing little things, don't get recognition and I'm fine with that," he says. "But to get this award, it's awesome, especially considering where it's coming from and what it means."