There are folks in Springville who believe Lexi Eaton is the best female athlete to ever come out of that Utah County enclave.
She did nothing to dispel that notion after the BYU freshman walked off the plane from the NCAA tournament in Chicago, put on track shoes and became BYU's top high jumper within a week.
Eaton is scheduled to compete as a top point producer in Saturday's meet against USC and Boise State, about a month after she scored 26 points on 10 of 19 shots against San Diego in the WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
"She's a gifted athlete. She could have gotten a scholarship in basketball, soccer or track," said BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins.
If she chose to, Eaton could be a machine-gun shooter on the court, filling up the basket quicker than a binge shopper at Walmart. That, however, was not her role as a rookie.
She's savvy with the dribble, smart with angles and has a great feel for the court. Eaton launches 3-pointers with a satin touch; she can gather up for a mid-range jumper and finish at the basket with the best of them. She also plays the piano and academically has a 3.9 GPA. She'd like to fit in soccer but it conflicts with basketball. You question if there's anything she can't do. Wonder Woman has nothing on this kid.
"No matter what Lexi does, you know she's going to give it her all," said Judkins. "In basketball, she has a great feel for the game and what needs to be done. She's the complete package, she can shoot, rebound, jump and defend. Not every athlete can do it all, but Lexi can."
As a high jumper, she's a power jumper, which means she doesn't need to use a lot of speed. At 5-10, she's got the perfect height to maximize her leaping ability and attack the bar. Once in launch position, she can explode. If Eaton gets down the technique and practices a little, her goal is to break the 6-foot barrier this spring.
If you look at her high school resume, good luck getting through the forest and maneuvering the trees. Two-time state scoring champion, state jump champion, Parade All-American, ESPN All-American, yada, yada, yada, turn the page. The list goes on and on.
Most parents would be pleased with a couple of those honors from a son or daughter. She's got an encyclopedia full. Wikipedia had to requisition more storage to handle the Lexi file.
"Lexi has a very open-minded attitude, which makes her very unique," according to BYU assistant track coach Corey Murdock, who is working specifically with Eaton on her high-jump skills.
"It's become a lot easier for kids to focus on the big sports like football, basketball and baseball, but Lexi just loves to compete in any form. She loves to improve, and her open-minded attitude allows her to succeed. She is a naturally amazing athlete, but she is also very hardworking. Her attitude and her talent are a great combination. She is always willing to listen and loves to be taught. She is a gem to work with."
Murdock believes Eaton's track talent isn't just a holdover for something to do in between basketball season and basketball skill development this summer.
"She has the potential to go to nationals this year. If she can go 5-11 or 6-0 at the right meet, she could be an All-American this season. We have set a high bar for her, both literally and figuratively, because she is so talented. She has a lot of potential but is still a little bit raw in terms of technique just because she hasn't had a chance to focus much on the high jump. Once we get a few technical issues worked out she will be able to maximize her potential."
Eaton had every reason to take a rest after returning from the NCAAs where the Cougars lost to DePaul. It was a long season with a ton of travel, an emotional WCC title and relationships with a close-knit squad.
"I'm not the type of person that likes to take time off," she said. "I don't feel like there is any need to. I just want to stay busy and I have things to accomplish and improve upon. I took a day off and then got right into it on Monday. That's how it's always been, to go from one sport to another."
She cleared 5-9 easily in her first track practice and then worked on 5-11. She cleared 5-9 in BYU's last meet. Her personal record in the high jump came in high school when she cleared 5-91/2 inches.
Toward the end of the basketball season, when she scored 26 in the WCC tournament, she felt more like her old self, "to bring my strengths to the team," is how she put it. "I felt a lot more comfortable, more like I expected it to be."
Eaton doesn't look at her resume as a hurdle to live up to — it's more like a catalyst for her confidence, to show she has the ability to contribute to the team and see what she can do at the next level.
At Springville, there might be little debate about Eaton's potential. When she played for the Red Devils, Springville won its first back-to-back basketball championships ever and the first since 1990.
"It was fun to have all those accomplishments," said Eaton.
Basketball is her love, even if track currently calls for her talent. "It has so many different aspects to it. It's fun for me, it's a challenge and things you can learn in basketball apply to so many other things in life. I love soccer and I'm finding out I miss it more than I thought I would now I'm not playing. I enjoy track because it complements basketball so well. But basketball is my favorite."
Eaton claims she was blessed with a very good high school track coach, and Murdock has built on that in a matter of weeks. "I've learned so much about the technical aspects of high jumping, he knows so much and can help me improve."
Eaton has a career goal in basketball to make it to the NCAA tournament every year, then to make it to the second round. As a personal goal, she'd like to be a college All-American in basketball and track.
She believes both are achievable.
"Setting goals is kind of how I've always done it. I have a saying that if you don't know where you're going, you aren't going to end up anywhere specific. I've always had goals to push myself."
If you're fishing out of a talent barrel like Eaton has, sounds like a plan.
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