It’s May 6th, 2015. Down 7-3 with just over a quarter left to play in his junior season, Joe Cooper scored two goals and tallied an assist to cut a 7-3 deficit to 7-6 against Panther Creek in the first round of the playoffs. Cooper’s desire to win that night in what would be an eventual 8-7 loss lit a fire under himself, and fellow teammate Garrett Patnesky to turn their lacrosse dreams into reality. In a world where specialization in high school athletics is at an all-time high, two very different multi-sport paths have created a lifelong bond between the two seniors that are on the doorstep of making history as their final few weeks of high school lacrosse approach.
Learning The Game
Most athletes describe an instant love for the game from the moment they pick up a stick, ball, or glove. Joe Cooper had his first encounter with a lacrosse stick at the age of eight. To say that it was an unusual experience would be an understatement for a kid that had known nothing other than soccer in his early years. “I was over at a friends house in the second grade, and I was convinced that I had just been handed a weird looking butterfly net” said Cooper.
While Joe was preparing to chase butterflies, a young Garrett Patnesky could be found chasing after a puck at local hockey rinks. Patnesky has always had a passion for the game of hockey. He traveled the region, and played in some of the area’s highest levels of youth hockey until the age of fifteen. Unlike most northern states, the hockey scene down south fades as the weather heats up, and with nothing to do in the spring of his freshman year of high school, Garrett traded his hockey stick for a lacrosse stick. “I was actually going to play golf” joked Patnesky, “but I was good friends with Josh Madey and his brother (J.D.) who both played lacrosse. They talked me into giving it a try, and I’ve loved the game ever since”.
Both experiences established an immediate passion for their newfound sports. Cooper began attending lacrosse skills camps until the seventh grade when he embarked on playing the sport competitively. As a freshman, he made the Millbrook Varsity Lacrosse team. After only one year of playing the sport at the junior varsity level, Patnesky would join the varsity team as a sophomore. That’s when he and Cooper first strapped on the pads as teammates in the Wildcat Stadium.
Their success in the spring led to more new endeavors in the fall as both tried out, and made the varsity football team. Still looking for new sports to keep himself occupied, Garrett took the advice of his friends to test his luck on the gridiron. Having developed interest for the game from his father, Cooper laced up the pads after several years played in middle school. Both players saw infrequent playing time as juniors, but a ride to the third round of the playoffs developed an understanding of how to go about being an athlete. “I barely played as a junior, but that season prepared me so much for my final two years of lacrosse, and my senior football season. I wish our whole lacrosse team would go tryout for football” said Patnesky. “The way Coach Inscore held each and every player accountable taught me so much” added Cooper who acknowledged the fact that Inscore taught he and Patnesky leadership, discipline, and a sense of being together as a team, something that he is forever thankful for as he has been able to transfer those skills over to the lacrosse field.
The “Dynamic Duo”
The competitive edge that each player gained while playing under the Friday night lights developed them into one of the area’s top one-two punches; on two different fields. After combining to score 50 of the lacrosse team’s 176 goals during their junior season, Cooper and Patnesky shined during their senior football season. Both players took on leadership roles as captains for a team that would reach the second round of the state playoffs. On the defensive side of the ball, Joe Cooper would finish third on the team in tackles as a starting linebacker. Through the first seven weeks of the season, he was Millbrook’s leading tackler. Having never caught a pass in a game before, Garrett Patnesky finished tied for third in the Cap-8 Conference with 38 receptions as a wide receiver. His 423 receiving yards were second most on the team, and top ten in the Cap-8. He also hauled in five of quarterback, Reid Herring’s twenty passing touchdowns on the season.
From there, things were just getting started. After the first week of their senior lacrosse season, Patnesky and Cooper had teamed up to score 31 goals. Going into the third week of March, both players were sitting 14th in the country in goals scored with 23. “These guys are workhorses” says Head Lacrosse Coach Adam Kraciuk, “we wouldn’t be where we are without them, they embody what Millbrook Lacrosse is, and they are a center point of what we are trying to do as a team”. Entering the final two weeks of the regular season, Millbrook is 7-4 and in position to make their sixth straight playoff appearance. Both players sit in the top five in goals scored in the conference. Cooper’s 36 goals lead the team with Patnesky in a close second at 34. Garrett is the first player in the conference this season to score 30+ goals, accumulate 20+ assists, and rack up 40+ ground balls. Their ability to be such well rounded players stems through the tradition of the Wildcat Lacrosse program.
“Lacrosse isn’t an individual sport but so much is initiated through individual effort. That makes it really important to lead by example. As leaders on this year’s team we not only need to put ourselves in a position to succeed now, but for the future of this program” says Patnesky. Cooper echoes similar thoughts by saying that “guys like Anthony Florian, and Trey Sterling who we lost last season pushed us to be the players that we are today. Now I’m pushing younger guys like Eric Stieber, and Drew Lange to be better lacrosse players. It’s to the point where Eric is like a son to me, and that’s really cool”.
The everlasting chain of growing the program has put Joe, and Garrett on the doorstep of Millbrook Lacrosse history. Both players are on pace to break Anthony Florian’s school record of 48 goals scored in a season. By the end of this week, both could make their way into second and third place by passing their former teammate, and current assistant coach Carter Durling who scored 39 goals two seasons ago. The success comes as a bit of a surprise to Patnesky who considers himself as a distributor, but he says Cooper is the kind of player that you can count on night in, and night out to put points on the board.
Living The Dream
Back to May 6th, 2015. The clock has hit zero, and Joe Cooper watches as Panther Creek celebrates an upset playoff win on his home field. As the team broke the huddle for the final time that season, Cooper, holding what he once thought was a butterfly net, looked over at Garrett Patnesky and proclaimed “I am going to play college lacrosse, and I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing so”. Patnesky, the kid who just wanted to find something to do while not playing hockey looked back and replied “me too”.
Eleven months have passed, and those proclamations have become a reality. On Tuesday afternoon Joe Cooper, and Garrett Patnesky will once again step under the lights. This time, it’s lights of a full auditorium as they sign their letters of intent to Wingate University, and Hampden-Sydney College respectively. As they put pen to paper to sign away the next four years of their life, they do so with the realization that just because two paths don’t head the same direction doesn’t mean they won’t meet up at some point. A lifelong bond between two “brothers” has just started.