Championship-caliber teams have often been defined by dynamic duos that prevail a team to success. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Shaq and Kobe. For Cornell lacrosse in the past three seasons, that special playing partnership has been between junior attackman Jeff Teat and senior attackman Clarke Petterson.
The duo from Ontario previously played together for three years at the Hill Academy (Ont.) and five years together in Junior A box lacrosse for the Brampton Excelsiors. They were on the Canadian National team in the 2016 U-19 World Championship, and before their Brampton days played together for the provincial Team Ontario.
Playing together since they were 16 years old, that on-field work has strengthened a bond and a connection that translates to offensive success on the field and leadership off of it.
“The way I will say it is that they see the game the same way,” says Cornell coach Peter Milliman. “They both see the same lanes, the same timing, the same opportunities. They’re able to communicate nonverbally very well on the field. So the connection with their eyes a lot of the times will lead to something that I think they just both see and understand without having to be vocal about it.”
Petterson and Teat have known each other since age 5, when they used to compete against each other in minor box lacrosse. Both could be considered Canadian lacrosse royalty. Jeff is the son of Dan Teat, who amassed 670 career points in a 14-year NLL career and has coached Jeff at Brampton. Petterson is the nephew of the late Dave Huntley, an All-American at Johns Hopkins and prolific coach at every level of the sport.
Teat and Petterson began their Junior A careers together in 2014 when Dan Teat and Brampton traded for Petterson. The two also began playing together at Ontario’s Hill Academy starting in Grade 10.
“The key for them was they played together in Junior A in Brampton and at the same time, they were playing during the school year at the Hill Academy together,” says Dan Teat. “When you start to play a full school year and then you play summer ball together, you’ve got this relationship with somebody that you are playing lacrosse with for basically the whole year.”
The two have been teammates at Cornell since 2017. The Big Red started that season 1-6 through February and March, so in early April the Cornell staff moved Petterson from midfield to join Teat at the attack.
The offense exploded.
The Big Red averaged 13 goals a game in their final month of the season and won four of their last six games. Teat alone had 43 points in the month of April and surpassed Rob Pannell’s freshman scoring record at Cornell.
The 2018 season was even better for both. Teat had a 99-point season while Petterson registered a team high-high 44 goals along with 19 assists. More importantly, Cornell went 13-5, won the Ivy League tournament and advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
“I think the reason that they work so well together is because of that awareness and honestly, because I think they’re both so competitive and so unselfish at the same time,” said Milliman, who took over as Cornell’s head coach in 2019 after serving with an interim tag through 2018. “They are not looking for themselves. I can say in all the time that I’ve known them and watched them, I don’t know if I can count how many times they’ve even made a selfish play that was for them.”
Cornell is once again a premier offense in college lacrosse as Petterson and Teat play their final season in Ithaca together in 2019.
At mid-April, Teat led the team with 59 points while Petterson was third in points with 38 goals and 13 assists. Both have been boosted by the development of sophomore John Piatelli, who has 36 goals and 16 assists as the third piece in the Big Red attack. Teat is considered the team’s facilitator, able to generate scoring chances for all of his teammates, while Petterson is an outstanding finisher who operates largely without the ball.
“They’re like Gretzky-Kurri,” says Dan Teat, comparing Jeff and Clarke to the Edmonton Oilers pair that is one of the most prolific scoring duos in NHL history. “They both know where each other is on the field basically at all times. If one is doing something with the ball, they know where the other one is going to be. Especially with Jeff. Jeff has a sense about him that he knows that if given enough time, Clarke will get open. That Clarke will make a cut and all he has to do is get him the ball.”
Their relationship off the field is described as close, but by no means are they inseparable. They two say the key to their chemistry is how much they communicate during down moments of games while also understanding each other’s tendencies during play.
“He’s always in the right spot at that the right time,” says Jeff Teat on Petterson. “Whether it’s him creating his own shot, getting a feed, or getting some rebounds which he did in the Towson game. I looked over to him one time and they announced that he had like six goals and I hadn’t even noticed. He does his own thing and puts up numbers quietly. A lot of people don’t really notice all the work that he puts in.”
“The biggest thing that people don’t really talk about is how high his lacrosse IQ is,” says Petterson on Teat’s game. “He’s the smartest lacrosse player that I’ve ever played with. He understands opposing defenses, he understands where we can find a matchup or exploit a hole in the other teams defense. And that is what allows him to make the plays that he makes.”
The duo also lead the team off the field as well. Petterson is in his third year as a Cornell captain and is recognized as one of the team’s more vocal leaders. Teat is described as more of a quiet and reserved leader who lets his play speak for him.
“[Hill Academy coach] Brodie Merrill told me about Clarke Petterson six years ago,” says Milliman. “Brodie said right away ‘he’ll be a captain at Cornell. He’s one of the best young men that I’ve ever been around.’ For him to say that and put that much value on it, that’s got to go a long way in my book. He couldn’t have been more correct on it… Clarke is as good of a leader as there is. Jeff is kind of an other-worldly talent, but you wouldn’t know that if you were just hanging out in the locker room. They are two of the more well-liked and well-respected teammates that I’ve ever coached, which is really unique for players of their caliber.”
Both have carried the Hard Hat, a tradition at Cornell that has come to honor the life of George Boiardi, a Cornell captain who passed away on the field after blocking a shot. Every year, a junior on the team is selected to be the sole team member to carry it to every single team event. Petterson carried it last year while Teat is the current carrier.
“It was a big thing for me because I like to pride myself on my work ethic as a lot of these guys do here,” said Teat. “Carrying the hard hat and sitting next to [George] in the locker — it’s a big deal. I can’t think of enough words to put together what it means.”
“It’s one of the greatest honors you can have when coming to Cornell is to carry that Hard Hat, because of how much it represents for our program,” says Petterson. “It’s the physical embodiment of George Boiardi. We base our entire team culture and program off of his work ethic…It’s a great honor, and I was super humbled to be able to do that last year and I know Jeff is for sure this year as well.”
Though the end of the Teat-Petterson partnership looms at the conclusion of the 2019 season, both say they don’t feel any sentimentality about that and seem confident that they will once again end up on the same team at some point in the future.
“Playing with everybody my last year at Cornell is something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” says Petterson. “Stemming from that, I’m just trying to make the most out of every single day. I’m sure that sometime in the future, me and Jeff end up on the same team again, so I’m not too worried about it. I was actually watching old YouTube videos of our games against each other a couple weeks ago when we were eight years old. And just thinking back now, we’re 21 years old and playing with each other and trying to win a National Championship. It’s just meant so much. It’s been an awesome ride.”
“The fact that we’ve been playing together for so long, it’s kind of gone unnoticed to be honest.” says Teat. “We know we have been playing together for a while, but we don’t really talk about it. We just continue to play. We kind of get sick of each other sometimes, but that’s what makes it fun and makes us good players together.”
This article appears in part in the May issue of Inside Lacrosse. Subscribe here.