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Atholton lacrosse goalie Kyleigh Eaton relishing senior year through different lenses

Atholton senior goalkeeper Kyleigh Eaton, who was a first-team All-County performer as a sophomore in 2019, is photographed during a girls lacrosse practice at the school on Thursday, April 29, 2021.
Atholton senior goalkeeper Kyleigh Eaton, who was a first-team All-County performer as a sophomore in 2019, is photographed during a girls lacrosse practice at the school on Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Kyleigh Eaton has grown to appreciate perspective the past few years.

As a sophomore all-county goalie on the lacrosse field in 2019 for Atholton, along with a half dozen years serving as a regular contributor between the pipes for the Hero’s lacrosse program, she knows what it feels like to compete and directly influence the outcome of a game at the highest levels.

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It was during her freshman year with the Raiders, however, that Eaton had the opportunity to see things from a different viewpoint. Following a pelvic injury three games into that first high school campaign, she was forced to watch every contest the rest of the season from the sidelines.

“That year I was supposed to split time in goal with my sister [Madison], who was a senior, and I was really looking forward to that, but then I got hurt and it never happened,” Eaton said. “I remember standing there on crutches and how frustrating it was to not be able to help the team on the field. All you can do is try to be supportive, cheer them on … contribute in other ways.”

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Years later, Eaton says those moments off the field — as tough as they were to endure at the time — gave her a greater appreciation for every member of a team. The players on the field make the plays and grab headlines, but the ones behind the scenes coming off the bench have their own important roles on the way to building successful programs.

And it’s through that lens that Eaton has drawn inspiration while pursuing another one of her growing passions — photography.

Over the past two years, since taking a class as a sophomore and becoming more serious about exploring the world around her with a camera, she has taken to the sidelines at a number of Atholton sporting events. Only, instead of focusing primarily on shooting the action on the field, Eaton says her favorite thing is to capture the game through those players standing, or sitting, right next to her.

“I love the raw emotion you get through the player’s eyes, especially football … they are so into each play even when they aren’t in the game,” Eaton said. “You can see the highs and lows of a game on their faces. I feel like it’s the perfect example of that whole idea about how pictures can express a thousand words without really saying anything.

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“So yeah, having been on the sideline, I know firsthand how they feel. Those players have stories too, and so when I’m taking photos I look at it like it’s my chance to capture a bit of that and give them a moment in the spotlight.”

This spring, as she embarks on her final season with Atholton’s lacrosse team, Eaton figures to be among those grabbing a share of the more traditional spotlight. As a sophomore in 2019 — the last time public school high school lacrosse was played in Maryland — she led Howard County in save percentage (53.3) and made 140 saves in 17 games.

Atholton senior goal keeper Kyleigh Eaton makes a save during a girls lacrosse practice at the school on Thursday, April 29, 2021.
Atholton senior goal keeper Kyleigh Eaton makes a save during a girls lacrosse practice at the school on Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

She was the only goalie selected to Howard County’s All-County first team.

“Kyleigh is the definition of a dependable, steady goalie. She may be a bit smaller in size, but she makes up for it with consistency,” said Atholton first-year head coach Amy Davis Hall, who served as an assistant the previous three seasons for the Raiders. “She sees the field incredibly well, is great at giving out directives to the team and her strong presence back there has a calming effect on her teammates. The girls know that Kyleigh always has their backs.”

Eaton, at 5-foot-2, is indeed smaller in stature. That has never meant shying away from being the last line of defense, though.

She first picked up lacrosse in the third grade, having previously played soccer and softball. By the fifth game of the season on her recreation lacrosse team, as players were encouraged to try every position, she got her first chance to play goalkeeper.

Eaton said she was hooked almost immediately.

“I remember being shot at a lot and only saving a few, but there was an energy I got from it that was really exhilarating,” Eaton said. “Most of the girls were afraid of getting hit by the ball, but it didn’t bother me.”

She has stuck at goalie ever since. Sure, she’s stepped out into the field on occasion with Hero’s — even scoring a goal a few years back. But nothing has matched the passion she has for making saves.

At Atholton, she is one of six seniors on the roster that came up together as freshmen on varsity. Eaton, Molly Flynn, Makayla Gravely-Smith and Christina Min have been starters from the beginning.

“I lean on my seniors so much. And it’s not just in terms of their play on the field ... I run things by them all the time just to get their opinions on things,” Davis Hall said. “I love their insight. They have been here as long as I have, with their freshman [years] being my first year as an assistant, so we have a similar perspective in a lot of ways.”

Eaton says the nine-player senior class is extremely close, adding that she and Flynn have been playing together on Hero’s since the fifth or sixth grade. There’s even a special bond with fellow senior goalie Autumn Wenstrom, who was on JV two years ago and is expected to split time in goal this spring.

“Autumn is probably the nicest person you will ever meet. … She just lights up a room. She’s one of the reasons I look forward to practice every day because we joke around and have so much fun together,” Eaton said. “So no, there definitely isn’t any competition between us for playing time or whatever. We cheer each other on and want to see the other person do well.”

In terms of photography, it’s an interest that coincides with a bigger theme she plans to pursue in college. Eaton has signed to play Division II lacrosse at Limestone, where she will also major in film.

When she signed up for a photography class as a sophomore at Atholton, she considered it to be an offshoot of her interest in the film medium. Her father, Woody, has taken photos of her and her sister “24-7” growing up and has equipment that allowed her to explore.

Sports photography seemed like a natural fit considering her athletic background, and considering she played JV basketball in the winter and lacrosse in the spring, her first ventures with a camera on the Atholton sidelines came during the fall season.

“I started with football. My dad gave me a short lens, taught me a little bit about angles and then just let me have fun with it,” she said.

Her interests have grown to include portraits of all kinds, nature and night photographs. This month she is wrapping up AP Photo 3 at Atholton before graduation.

It’s on the lacrosse field, though, that she is focusing most of her attention. Having lost an entire year’s worth of games and with a shortened schedule this spring, Eaton isn’t taking anything for granted.

“It might sound weird, but I don’t care about how many games we play or how many wins or losses we have. I just want to be out there as a team,” Eaton said. “You don’t realize how much it means to you until it gets taken away like it was last year. And, I really just love this team … we’re a big family that is finally getting a chance to be back together again.”

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Atholton kicks off its season on Friday night against Hammond on the road at 7 p.m.

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