There's a lacrosse net in Dani Paterno's backyard. And in the early days of her recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, she would sneak outside and work on her shot, even when it might not have been the wisest decision to do so.
"I remember my mom would see me and yell at me to come back inside," Paterno said. "I always wanted to be safe. But I knew from the start that I was going to push myself as hard as I could."
Four games into this season — after missing all but two games of her junior year with the injury — Paterno had already generated nine goals and eight assists as her Clearview girls' lacrosse team opened its season with one of the toughest schedules in South Jersey.
Paterno was the latest in a hard-luck group of Clearview stars to return after being set back with a torn ACL.
Pioneers coach Megan Conklin prefaced her comments about Paterno by noting that every ACL injury is different, and every recovery is different. But, she added, "I have to say that I don't think I've ever seen someone come back and be this strong this quickly from the injury. And I believe a lot of it has to do with how hard she works, One of the things that Dani does that is extremely impressive is the amount of time that she puts into her recovery."
Conklin has been coaching players through ACL injuries almost nonstop for the better part of a decade. Gianna Bowe suffered two of them while at Clearview before moving on to North Carolina and winning a national championship.
Following Bowe, among other players, was Paterno's sister, Frankie.
Frankie Paterno, who currently plays at Rowan, tore an ACL while winding up for a shot that could have been the 100th goal of her career. Like her sister, Frankie made a full recovery and had a strong senior season.
Dani said her sister's recovery was an inspiration to her. Frankie would give her advice on certain rehab exercises and what weights to use — but only to an extent.
"When it happened, I really just told myself that this was something that I wanted to do on my own," Dani said. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back. And that's what happened.
"The biggest thing I learned from this is just how hard of a worker I can be."
She still recalls the exact day her injury happened. It was April 1, 2017, in a game at Ocean City.
"When it happened, I didn't want to believe that I was actually injured," Paterno said. "I ran back and forth on the sideline a little bit and almost wanted to go back in the game before I realized that I couldn't."
Since then, she said, her mindset has been singular: return. And return stronger than before.
Paterno prides herself on being a student of the game. She said she watches college games on TV. She practices trick shots. She studies technical and tactical aspects of the sport.
"I love lacrosse," she said, "because it's a sport with endless possibilities."
That mind-set, Conklin said, was big for Paterno's recovery.
"Obviously, getting injured is unfortunate and there's nothing that can really prepare you for that emotional roller coaster. But I would say one of the silver linings is that you can really learn the game and appreciate different aspects of it — Dani was able to do that extremely well," Conklin said. "She understands the game so well. She can find the open cutters and has an excellent pass and also makes great decisions on when to attack and when to settle things down."
The return of Paterno, who has committed to the University of Vermont, is another layer for a team that is exceptionally well-rounded in each third of the field.
And ever since the first practice in her return — when, she said, she stepped on the field and knew she was back to 100 percent — Paterno said her primary goals now lie with the team.