Along the sideline at the Lax for the Cure Tournament, Butch Marino and Sarah Cooper couldn’t decipher the offense on the field. It was the summer of 2015 in New Egypt, New Jersey, and college coaches packed the stands scouting the country’s best club teams.Marino’s TLC Red team had already won its semifinal earlier in the day and was looking to scout potential championship opponents. The Long Island Yellow Jackets, running a similar backer zone that Marino’s team deployed, neared an upset by the Hero’s Tournament Lacrosse Club.Marino, a member of the 1994 gold-medal U.S. men’s lacrosse team, couldn’t figure out how Hero’s was beating the Yellow Jacket zone. Yet Cooper, his zone backer, saw what her head coach couldn’t.“(Cooper) said, ‘Hey, Coach Butch, do you see Hero’s? Every time they’re on offense, every single time, they’re skipping the second pass,’” Marino remembered. “Which is smart: ball movement is the key to beating a backer zone.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textRather than make the simple pass to the closest teammate, Hero’s would use that attack as a dummy — launching the ball over the decoy to another attack — and make it an almost-impossible amount of ground for the backer to cover. In TLC’s championship victory that same day, Cooper led a defense that Marino said “rocked” Hero’s, holding them to just one goal.“All you,” Marino said to her after the game. “That was all you.”It’s Cooper’s mental ability to read the game and make changes “on the fly” that made her the top defensive recruit in her class, head coach Gary Gait said. She caused a team-high 33 turnovers despite being the only first-year starter on defense and enters 2020 as the reigning ACC freshman of the year. But if Cooper and the Orange want to achieve their national championship goal, she knows she’ll have to take her game to another level. Still, it wouldn’t be Cooper’s first time making a sophomore surge.,Six years ago, Cooper emerged from the shower in her Lutherville, Maryland home and saw the email she had been waiting for. It was from her high school — the Catholic, all-girls Notre Dame Preparatory School — announcing who had made the varsity and junior varsity rosters.Then-freshman Cooper quickly scrolled through the varsity roster, scanning for her name. It wasn’t there. When she found her name on the JV list, she wasn’t upset for long.“I never try to be super hard on myself,” Cooper said, “because that’s when I get too nervous and make a mistake or not play how I want to play because I’m putting too much stress on myself.”ND Prep head coach Mac Ford admitted it was a mistake to omit Cooper from the varsity team that year, but he and Cooper agree that a year on JV aided her development. While several of Cooper’s freshman friends languished on the 46-girl varsity team without much playing time, Cooper excelled.Her calm approach is somewhat famous in the Syracuse locker room, and she admits teammates have caught her dozing off before games. Cooper dislikes music with beats that pump up other players, instead opting for slower songs that clear her mind.It’s a balancing act for Cooper, who admits her humble and “unassuming” demeanor, as Ford puts it, has sometimes led her to be overly tentative on the field. In her sophomore year at Notre Dame, Ford rectified his error from the prior year, making Cooper an immediate varsity starter.She would always make the right call. She was like our coach on the field.-ND Prep coach Mac FordAt first, Cooper was nervous. She ran away when she thought someone was about to throw her a pass. Even though she displayed superb skills in practice, Cooper preferred to fade out of the spotlight and into the background during games. One day, Ford had seen enough and pulled her aside.“Hey, you have as good of stickwork as anybody. You should be handling the ball and clearing the ball by yourself,” Ford said to her.“And all of a sudden, everything clicked for her,” he said.Cooper, whom Ford tabbed the “consummate teammate,” said she realized her hesitancy was harming her team, which was the last thing she wanted. From then on, Cooper played with the poise of a veteran, making suggestions to the Notre Dame coaching staff just like she had with Marino at the Lax for the Cure tournament.During Cooper’s junior year, Notre Dame was down big to Bishop Ireton (Virginia) High School and Lexi LeDoyen, now one of Cooper’s roommates at SU. When Cooper subbed out, she told Ford and the coaching staff they needed to switch from zone to man-to-man. Cooper said she had just gotten a feeling it would work, and as Ford recalls, she took LeDoyen in man and shut her down.“She would always make the right call,” Ford said. “She was like our coach on the field.”Part of Cooper’s advanced mental abilities comes from her relentless approach. Marino recalled taking his daughter Alex — Cooper’s current teammate and roommate — to St. Paul’s Prep School in Brooklandville, Maryland on days TLC didn’t have practice. Often when they arrived, Cooper was already there, working on her game alone with the goals that were up year-round. Before she had her driver’s license, Cooper begged her parents to take her to practice an hour early.Cooper said there were times this past fall when she’d forget they had off days. She’d follow her normal routine, waking up early to be at the facility an hour before non-existent 8 a.m. practices.“I’d be looking around like, I have the first (parking) spot at Manley, this is awesome,” Cooper said. “And then I’d be like, ‘Oh, we don’t have practice today.’”Even when she remembers it’s an off day, Cooper can’t stay away from lacrosse completely. Sometimes, she’ll ask a teammate to go and work out or play wall ball. Last fall, when each player was sent their login to SU’s new film system, Cooper immediately signed in and began scouting the upcoming season’s opponents. She sifted through the different offenses, the attack players. The games were still months away, but that didn’t mean Cooper couldn’t start.Cover photo by Molly Gibbs | Senior Staff Photographer Comments Published on February 6, 2020 at 1:28 am Contact Alex: [email protected] | @alexhamer8,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.