Senior LAX Player Calls Ferrum ‘Light at the End of Her Tunnel’

Willow Cooper is averaging six goals per game
Willow Cooper, senior, controls the ball in the opening game of the season against Brevard where she scored six goals and recorded an assist.
Willow Cooper, senior, controls the ball in the opening game of the season against Brevard where she scored six goals and recorded an assist.
Courtesy of the Athletic Department

Not all willows weep–some bend to a breaking point–but others absorb adversity and convert it into resiliency.

Senior Willow Cooper has taken the beginning of the women’s lacrosse season by storm with 36 goals, seven assists in only six games.

Cooper has had at least three goals in every game thus far, and her team is sitting at a 5-1 record before ODAC play begins this weekend.

“I owe huge credit to my coaches throughout life and especially at Ferrum,” Cooper said. “Coach (Karen) Harvey has helped me and pushed me to reach my goals on and off the field, and mostly my teammates. I wouldn’t be where I am today or be able to do anything on the field without them, their backup, and support.”

One of those supporters is Assistant Coach Sarah Perry.

“I think Willow brings not just a presence to the team, a presence of leadership and quality in a lacrosse player, but she brings passion for the sport,” Perry said. “She loves her teammates and coaches ,and her commitment to this team and Ferrum is remarkable. I have loved watching her grow.”

Perry played at Randolph and still holds the ODAC record for most goals in a game (13).

With her play this season, Cooper has the ability to break her coach’s record. She has had games of nine goals, eight goals, and seven goals at halftime before getting two yellow cards in the second half.

Perry hopes it will happen.

“Every time Willow has gotten close, where she has scored eight or 10 goals, I was rooting for her.  I was counting in my head, hoping she could be the one to break it,” Perry said. “I would love to have that moment of one of the athletes I have the privilege if coaching to break my record.  Willow is a fantastic lacrosse player, but a wonderful person. She deserves it, and I will continue to root for her this season.”

Cooper is in her senior season and has goals she wants to accomplish before her potential final season. She has the option to play one more year due to Covid.

“My main goals are to help lead this team to success.  I think at times, other teams have underestimated or looked over us, and I want to go into ODAC play and make a statement,” Cooper said. “The goal is to win. It’s always to win.”

The 5-1 start is the best the for the team since the 2020 season Covid shut down where the team started 4-0.

“Willow is a very inspiring leader and always pushes the team to keep going no matter what the odds are.  She’s one person the team can depend on to get the job done,” Freshman teammate, Kayla Lindsay said. “Willow is driven and passionate and it definitely creates an atmosphere for the team to keep putting in the work.”

Through the first six games, the team is averaging 16 goals a game.

“I think we’ve had such high scores because we’ve been setting the bar higher and really working together as a unit, being aggressive, and not giving up,” Cooper said. “As a captain, my main goal is to create a winning culture on this team–even after my time on it is done.”

Cooper said she has worked hard through the ups and downs to help build that winning culture with her teammates.

“I think I’ve grown a lot as a player here and have adapted to play through sometimes unideal circumstances,” Cooper said. “Having to play through difficult games has helped me build a lot of character and grit to overcome any circumstance.”

But Cooper’s battle with adversity started far before her time here.

Cooper, from Maryland, knew since eighth grade she wanted to be a college lacrosse player.  In her freshman year, she made Varsity and was playing with a team she said was filled with extremely talented girls at one of the top lacrosse schools in the area.

But during high school Cooper, got herself involved with the wrong crowd.

“I had a boyfriend as a sophomore that eventually moved into my house because he got kicked out,” Cooper said. “I quickly began surrounding myself with an older, up to no good crowd, and started putting myself in bad situations.”

Those situations led her to getting in trouble, skipping school, and when she was in school, she would spend time in ISS (In-school suspension).

Cooper said it was hard on her mother, who was a single parent of four kids and had to work nights. Cooper said it was hard for her mother to combat the situation.

“My mom couldn’t control me at home even when she tried. None of my time in high school was really spent being a high schooler,” Cooper said. “I was in trouble legally many times and was even put on juvenile probation. I made myself grow up too fast.”

But even when things were unstable, Cooper’s stability came from playing lacrosse.

“The one thing in my life that has always been consistent is lacrosse, and I know it was my ticket out,” Cooper said. “The only time in high school I ever had good grades was during lacrosse season because I knew I needed them to play.”

As a junior and senior in high school, Cooper toured different colleges and verbally committed to a school in Georgia on a full ride scholarship.

But Cooper graduated high school in 2020 with a 1.7 overall GPA in her four years combined.

“I was always upfront and honest about my grades with the lacrosse coaches, and they thought talent would trump grades,” Cooper said. “After my transcripts had gone through, the college had to retract my scholarship and told me to do a year of community college, and they would revisit their offer after I completed that.”

On the first day of classes at her community college, her father overdosed and passed away after fighting a battle with addiction and alcohol.

“It was definitely difficult to navigate and process, but after all was said and done, I was so far behind in my classes, they were all online because of Covid, and I felt very defeated,” Cooper said.

Prior to her time at community college, Cooper had interest from Ferrum, but she had no interest in being a Panther because she didn’t think she could come here because Ferrum only offers academic scholarships.

But coaches heard of Cooper’s situation and reached out again.

“I was very hesitant because I figured I would just get my hopes up again, and my application would be denied,” Cooper said. “But she (former Assistant Coach Jenn Leahy) convinced me to try, and this school worked a miracle for me. Ferrum College was the light at the end of my very dark tunnel.”

Now Cooper is the captain of the team in her senior season, and she hopes her story and struggles resonate with those around her.

“I hope to leave behind a legacy and imprint on my teammates to always be confident, motivated, and to never give up or back down no matter the odds you’re up against,” Cooper said. “I would want everyone on my team to remember you’re not defeated when you lose, you are defeated when you quit.”

Cooper calls this campus her home away from home, and she said it gave her a new beginning and the fresh start she needed to save her life.

“I have really been able to find myself and grow into someone 10 years ago I prayed for and dreamed of being,” Cooper said. “The grass is greener where you water it, and I think life works in mysterious ways, and it put me exactly where I needed to be.”

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  • C

    Colton LambertMar 20, 2024 at 11:06 pm

    Proud of you willow ❤️

  • L

    Lisa HowardMar 19, 2024 at 9:03 pm

    AMAZING! You have come along way from the little girl that I caught numerous times planking on the top handrails of my two story open foyer house! I always said that you had no fear. I also always knew that you had a big heart. I will be forever grateful to you for the lacrosse game you played with Brianna. Her grandad was visiting from Pennsylvania and you tried so hard to help assist Brianna make a goal. It took you numerous attempts but you finally succeeded and she scored her first goal of the season that day! I am proud of you but not at all surprised at all that you have accomplished. You are a fighter and a rock star. Apple did not fall from the tree. Awesome job to your mother for always guiding you towards lacrosse and the light at the end of the tunnel Hugs. Lisa Howard. Aka. Ms Lisa

  • R

    Rusty BatemanMar 19, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    I am so proud of you kiddo. God knows your Dad surely would be!!!!!

  • J

    JackieMar 19, 2024 at 3:09 pm

    Willow keep your Dreams and never look back. You have a great story and an inspiration for anyone.

  • C

    Cheryl KerwinMar 19, 2024 at 12:28 pm

    As Willow’s grandmother, I can attest to the truth of every word she has said here. Willow’s talent on the soccer field, lacrosse field and even the high school basketball court, became very evident as early as 3rd grade. She has natural talents and abilities that we were so afraid she wasn’t going to maximize because of who she was hanging out with in high school.
    We thought any dreams of college were just that-dreams. But then she got the call from Ferrum. Something clicked in her, we could visibly see it and a new maturity level was emerging too! It was amazing how she buckled down and took to studying as if she’d been doing it all through high school. She was so proud of her good grades and WE were so proud of them too!
    Her mother, her grandfather and I have been making the five hour trips each way as often as possible to see “ Wild Willow” ( my nickname for her since elementary school) play and cheer on the Panthers. These young ladies deserve all the accolades they can get; they play their hearts out!! We think of them as our other granddaughters.
    Willow has big dreams now to play a little more lacrosse and make the world a better place…we know she’s got this.
    Thank you Iron Blade News for the heartwarming story about our granddaughter.