Two Eastern girls’ lacrosse players share special, lifelong friendship

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Austyn Cuneo (bottom) and Samantha Mlkvy (top) are co-captains, co-leading scorers and best friends on the Eastern girls’ lacrosse team. The two first met while playing youth sports in Voorhees at the age of 5 and have been teammates ever since. This season, they have each scored 14 goals in helping to lead the Vikings to a 4–0 start to the season.[/caption]

Eastern High School seniors Austyn Cuneo and Samantha Mlkvy have made their mark during their athletic careers.

Cuneo has been nationally recognized as a star field hockey player, breaking national records with 96 goals during the 2013 season and totaling 328 in her career. She has also been one of the top scorers on the girls’ lacrosse team the past two years.

Mlkvy is a three-sport athlete, playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse. She became one of the girls’ lacrosse team’s top scorers, netting a combined 45 goals in her first two years.

Much has been written about the pair’s on-field accomplishments across multiple sports. However, few know about the special relationship these two athletes share.

Cuneo and Mlkvy have been best friends since they began playing youth sports in Voorhees at the age of 5. The two first connected playing on the same field hockey and lacrosse teams. Even at a young age, they were both talented athletes, so they were typically the youngest players on their teams.

“We always played up, so we were always the youngest ones,” Cuneo said. “I thought, ‘she’s the only one my age, so I guess I’ll go talk to her.’”

Mlkvy said being the youngest on their teams helped allow her and Cuneo to bond and build a friendship both on and off the field.

“We had our own little area, because all of the other girls didn’t want anything to do with us because we were the younger ones,” Mlkvy said. “We were 5 starting with 7- and 8-year-olds.”

As kids, Cuneo and Mlkvy describe getting in trouble for goofing off during practices and games. Mlkvy recalled having sword fights and coaches always calling them over during practice.

“It was either Sam and Austyn or Austyn and Sam,” Mlkvy said. “I was never called out without her, and she was never called out without me.”

“We always got in trouble together,” Cuneo said.

The girls quickly became friends off the field, regularly visiting each other’s homes and spending a lot of their free time together. Cuneo joked they sometimes call each other’s parents mom and dad.

On the field, both girls developed into talented, multi-sport athletes. When they arrived at Eastern, they would play separate fall sports. Cuneo continued with field hockey while Mlkvy played on the girls’ soccer team.

Even though they were in separate sports in the fall, the two were reunited on the lacrosse field each spring.

Both Cuneo and Mlkvy play midfield, a position requiring versatility on both offense and defense. The rapport between the two makes their job on the field much easier.

“There’s a connection a lot of people don’t understand,” Cuneo said. “A lot of communication has to come through us.”

Mlkvy said she can communicate with Cuneo without even speaking to her. She describes times where they would simply exchange a glance on the field and immediately set up a new play or devise a new strategy.

“It’s just a look in the eye,” Mlkvy said.

Girls’ lacrosse head coach Katie Lee said the connection between Cuneo and Mlkvy is unlike any she’s ever seen.

“They do have that connection, that little twin connection, where they can see each other and hit each other on feeds that are absolutely unbelievable,” Lee said. “They know what each other is doing before they actually do it.”

Cuneo and Mlkvy are co-captains on a young Eastern team this season. Lee said their friendship rubs off on their teammates and has a positive effect on and off the field.

“Having those two in the midfield leading us is really helping us the last couple games,” Lee said. “We wouldn’t be as strong without the two of them this year.”

Last season, the pair of Cuneo and Mlkvy never took the field together. Mlkvy tore her ACL during the 2013 soccer season and was forced to miss the entire 2014 lacrosse season. Cuneo missed having her best friend on the field with her.

“We were so used to playing with each other and having that connection on the field that losing one person can make all the difference,” she said.

“Their presence is something you don’t find,” Lee said. “Not having that last year, it hurt us a little bit. We did have people who stepped up last year, and it made those players stronger for this year. But having them back and having them healthy and strong physically is something other teams are going to have to watch out for.”

Cuneo and Mlkvy have Eastern off to a fast start in 2015. The Vikings started the year a perfect 4–0 in part thanks to the seniors’ contributions. Cuneo and Mlkvy have each scored 14 goals in their team’s first four games.

They are hoping to guide Eastern to a sectional championship in their final season together before heading off to different colleges in the fall. Each will play their best sport, with Cuneo heading to the University of North Carolina to play field hockey and Mlkvy going to the University of Cincinnati to play lacrosse. It will be the furthest the two have been apart since they first met.

“It’s going to be hard catching up during breaks,” Mlkvy said. “There probably hasn’t been a day I have not seen her in the last 12 years. That’s going to be a lot.”

Though the two will be separated, they are already planning how they will meet up next year. Not even hundreds of miles can separate these best friends for life.

“Thankfully, we’re in different sports,” Cuneo said. “So maybe there’ll be a long car ride one day.”

“Maybe we’ll meet halfway,” Mlkvy said.