Provo • It would have been difficult to find a student-athlete walking around BYU’s campus the first few days of December 2012 with more going for her than sophomore Lexi Eaton.
In addition to having a near-perfect grade-point average and being an accomplished pianist, the two-time former Utah Female Athlete of the Year from Springville High had earned West Coast Conference women’s basketball co-newcomer of the year honors the previous basketball season. Just a few weeks after getting that honor and scoring 26 points in a WCC tournament game, Eaton put on a pair of track shoes and posted a mark of 5 feet, 10 inches on the high jump, becoming BYU’s top performer in that event and eventually winning several multi-school meets in the spring of 2012.
Some folks around BYU were calling her Wonder Woman.
Then it happened.
On Dec. 4, 2012, while going in for a layup against Utah State in the Cougars’ eighth game of the season, “my right knee went one way and I went the other way,” Eaton said. The 5-foot-10 guard/forward who had been averaging 15.6 points per game knew it was serious the second it happened. It was an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, ending not only Eaton’s basketball season, but also the following spring’s track season.
“It was freaky, just the weirdest thing ever,” she said of the injury that came without contact. “It was the worst pain in my life. I knew right off that it was bad, that something was terribly wrong.”
Surgery, and nearly 10 months of rehabilitation followed. Eaton and BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins say she probably could have gotten back on the court sooner, but trainers and doctors were extra cautious, remembering how another basketball star, Haley Hall Steed, suffered three ACL injuries in her BYU career.
“The hardest part was the first few months, because you are at ground zero,” Eaton said. “I couldn’t even bend my knee. I didn’t even feel like an athlete anymore. It was emotionally draining to stay positive, and to persevere through it.”
But persevere she did, and now Eaton is right back where she was before — averaging 15.9 points per game for a 16-5 team looking to make a strong run the second half of the WCC season. Eaton has started in 20 of the Cougars’ 21 games, has averaged 27.7 minutes per game and has bounced back from the devastating injury better than anyone expected.
She scored a career-high 28 points in Thursday’s 75-70 loss at Saint Mary’s.
“I would say physically right now I am 100 percent,” she said. “I feel totally confident and comfortable. I feel like I am playing some of my best basketball right now. It is just a matter of putting together good games consistently. That’s what I am trying to figure out right now.”
Her shooting percentage — 45 percent as a freshman and 46 percent before the injury cut short her sophomore season, which she will get back — still hasn’t returned for Eaton, who is shooting just 38 percent this season. But she believes the injury made her a better player, and Judkins concurs.
“She hasn’t shown any fear at all,” Judkins said. “Physically, she hasn’t changed at all. Mentally, she’s much better. She’s still as aggressive as she was, which is good.”
Basketball is Eaton’s first love and the reason she’s at BYU, she said, but the injury won’t derail her high-jumping aspirations.
She plans to resume her goal of clearing 6 feet this spring because her non-injured left knee is her jumping knee.
“I figure if I have the talent, why not try to be the best I can be?” she said. “It is a great opportunity to see what I am made of, and improve. And there are great coaches around to help me improve. Overall, I just think high jumping is very complementary to the sport of basketball. Those are reasons I do it.”
Lexi Eaton file
• Two-time Tribune Utah Female Athlete of the Year at Springville High (2010-11).
• Named WCC co-newcomer of the year as a freshman after averaging 10.5 ppg.
• Suffered season-ending ACL injury to right knee in eighth game of 2012-13 season.
• Also a member of the women’s track and field team (high jumper).
• Averages 15.9 points a game for 16-5 Cougs.