Eaton defines the essence of 'hustle'

Senior Jessi Eaton before practice in Erickson Gym. A three-sport athlete at South Whidbey High School, Eaton is co-captain of this year
Senior Jessi Eaton before practice in Erickson Gym. A three-sport athlete at South Whidbey High School, Eaton is co-captain of this year's Lady Falcon basketball team with her good friend Caitie Newman.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

Whether on the volleyball or basketball court, or out on the links, Falcon three-sport senior Jessi Eaton is always ready for action. She defines the concept of "hustle" in high school sports.

"I think the best win comes when you've tried hard, you're totally exhausted and there's nothing left to give," Eaton said. "Everything is on the floor. That's when you know you've done your best."

Easy to say, hard to accomplish.

Following the basketball team's trip to the district tournament last year, Coach John Pyrtek told the girls they needed to toughen up.

"Jessi began a strength-training and conditioning program the next week," Pyrtek recalled.

"During a pick-up game last summer I was defending against her and told her she wouldn't get the ball unless by accident. With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she pulled back and drilled me with a jab to the solar plexus. 'Hey, I don't think so,' she said."

Though she had "fun" -- one of her operative words -- playing volleyball, she admits basketball is her fave.

"Basketball gives me a real adrenaline rush and with the long season, it's a huge commitment," she said.

Eaton and others are getting ready for the rush. The whole team is looking forward to the Tip-Off Classic Nov. 29 at Langley Middle School against Coupeville (see story below).

By spring, she's ready to hit the links for a little golf.

"It's a real break, not as physical or strenuous and Coach (Tom) Sage provides lots of comic relief," she said.

In school, advanced-placement English, Spanish and history are her favorite classes with "Little Women" and "Slaughterhouse-Five" on her list of best reads. She admits a fondness for "stupid humor" movies -- think "Zoolander" and "Austin Powers" -- and Julia Roberts in anything.

Eaton was awarded a Crimson Regents Scholarship this fall from Washington Sate University and, though she's checking out schools in Oregon, WSU is the front runner for college next autumn.

"The director of WSU's communications program called the other day to see if I had any questions. I admit that made a good impression on me," she said.

The 5-foot-3 Falcon forward is honest enough to admit she won't be getting too many basketball scholarship offers.

"Tough to play at the college level when you're vertically challenged," she said with a laugh.

Away from school and sports, Eaton has been active in the community with Hearts and Hammers, Salvation Army and Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America. "Giving part of myself away to help someone else is a big part of my life," she said.

Prytek agreed completely with that assessment.

"I had coached Jessi at the middle school," Prytek said. "After she began high school, she called to ask if I needed an assistant."

"I was barely treading water at high tide from grief at my son's recent death. She was asking to stand by me and ease my pain; Jessi's offer was one of unconditional compassion, and out of that dark winter we forged a friendship that has us both working hard for a successful basketball season," he said.

Coach Sage praises Eaton as an athlete and a person.

"I have coached many students in my career and there are none more coachable and capable than Jessi," Sage said. "She's extremely loyal to her friends and family and has a wonderful sense of humor. Jessi has drive and determination both in sports and academically."

Eaton's lived on South Whidbey for 16 of her 18 years. Overall, she thinks growing up on the island has been a positive experience, though she confesses irritation sometimes when "too many people know your business."

She's close with her older sister Nici and best friends Caitie Newman (who is co-captain with Eaton for the Lady Falcons) and Amanda Lavassar.

She also revealed that she and Nici have their zodiac signs tattooed on the back of their necks. "It was planned that way," she said.

She turned 18 in July while in Switzerland and remembered standing atop Mount Pilatus and looking at four countries: France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. "It was pretty sweet," Eaton said.

She hopes to do a lot more traveling after college but right now her focus is on the court. "Basketball is hard work, but fun and we have a great team and a cool coach. It's going to be a fantastic season."

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