Former Titan poised for possible record-breaking season at App State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

In this day and age of college athletes transferring on a regular basis, former goaltender Kerry Eagleston of the West Forsyth girls soccer team is bucking that trend as she plays collegiately at Appalachian State University.

Eagleston, who graduated from West Forsyth in 2019 and was part of the NCHSAA Class 4-A state championship, has already played four seasons at Appalachian State, but because of COVID-19, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to athletes who were on teams at the time.

Eagleston could’ve transferred any number of times, but she’s chosen to stay in Boone for her fifth season on the Mountaineers women’s soccer team. She’s already graduated with a degree in social work and is working on her master’s degree in social work.

“Any transition into college is tough, but I’ve loved my time up here at App,” Eagleston said. “You know, so much so that I’m taking my fifth year, COVID year. I mean, I’ve loved it. It’s been — it’s had its high highs, and it’s had its low lows — but overall, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Eagleston has enjoyed her experience so much that she’s lived in Boone for much of the summer as she gets ready to report for fall camp with second-year Head Coach Aimee Haywood of Appalachian on Aug. 1 in preparation for the season, which starts Aug. 17 at Wake Forest, her hometown team.

“I just love the culture at App,” Eagleston said. “I love my teammates, and I love my coaches, and I love the school itself, as well. Just being in the mountains, there’s always so much to do. And I just love the atmosphere and the culture we have here.”

One person who had a chance to see the type of player and teammate Eagleston was, is Scott Bilton. Bilton, who resigned last month after being the head coach for the girls soccer coach at West Forsyth for the past 16 seasons, was Eagleston’s coach all four seasons. Bilton was also one of Eagleston’s teachers at West Forsyth.

“I think A, it speaks for the program,” Bilton said. “Obviously, she enjoys that, but I think one of the words that would clearly describe her is loyalty. She is an incredibly loyal person, and you know, they gave her the chance and have stuck with her.

“And I mean, I’m sure there’s been some ups and downs and challenges from time to time, but they still stuck with her. And I think Kerry appreciates that and realizes that.”

Not only does her loyalty speak for itself, Eagleston, who is 5-foot-8, isn’t just some run-of-the-mill goalkeeper. However, she didn’t start out playing soccer.

“I grew up playing baseball,” she said. “I didn’t play softball. I didn’t want to play. I played baseball. So, I think that’s kind of where it started because I wanted to beat all the boys.”

Eagleston started playing baseball for one reason.

“My brother played baseball,” Eagleston said. “I didn’t play for that long, I don’t think. I think when I did (play), I think I was like one of two (girls who played).”

Last year for Appalachian, she started all 19 games for the Mountaineers, who went 6-9-4. She played over 6,600 minutes in goal and led the Sun Belt Conference in saves (93), was third in save percentage (.809), fifth in shutouts (six), and seventh in goals-against average (1.166).

“I started out as a forward,” Eagleston said. “I switched when I was 12. There came one game where we didn’t have a goalkeeper, and they asked for a volunteer, and I said, ‘I’ll try it out.’ And that was it for me. I stayed back there. I didn’t come back out.”

She has 18 career shutouts at Appalachian, the third most in school history behind Breland Meany (24) and Caroline Clarke (21), setting up the possibility that she could break that record this season.

“Honestly, I think probably the 12-year-old me was thinking that actually looks like a lot of fun,” Eagleston said. “And I was right. It was a lot of fun. I love just being back there, being able to make those amazing saves.”

With 352 career saves and a full season ahead of her, there’s the very real possibility that Eagleston could become the all-time saves leader for the Mountaineers. She trails just Kelly Guinn (375) and Meany (369).

“When I committed to App, I was supposed to be one of five goalkeepers, and then when I got here in preseason, I was one of two,” Eagleson said. “And the senior goalkeeper, like the first or second day of preseason, she broke her ankle. So, she had to get surgery on her ankle. So, I was left being one of one, essentially.”

Not only has Eagleston persevered, she has more than proven her athleticism.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Bilton said. “I knew that going in, she would not be able to start right away, and whatever happens happened for a reason. And I know, though, once she grabbed a hold of it, she wasn’t giving that away easily. Obviously, she hasn’t given it away in four years, and I don’t think she will.”

Eagleston had many highlights in high school for West Forsyth, but her best might have been in her sophomore year in the NCHSAA Class 4-A Western Regional Final against Charlotte Catholic.

The game was scoreless after regulation, two 10-minute overtimes, and two five-minute sudden death overtimes. That sent the game to a penalty-kicks shootout, and the Titans won 4-3.

Bilton said he told Eagleston that if she had the first save, then the Titans would win the game.

“It’s one of those things you definitely do as a coachism, but I believed it, too, because I felt like, hey, if she could get that she is going to intimidate this team,” Bilton said. “From the previous year, as well, they knew how good she was. And I knew that if she could send a message early. You know, she’s a menacing figure in there too. And they knew her and what she was capable of. So, they were a little bit nervous.”

The players for Charlotte Catholic weren’t the only players who were nervous.

“When I make a PK save, you can feel the energy,” Eagleston said. “Both at App and from West. You can feel that energy because, you know, they see you make that save and like, ‘Alright, it’s go-time.'”

West Forsyth carried that momentum in the state championship game four days later at N.C. State and defeated Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons 4-3 in overtime, giving West Forsyth its first girls soccer state championship and improved to 26-1-1.

“I think coming off of that win, it’s a high that you’re riding,” Eagleston said. “And we carried that into the game.”
West Forsyth had two very good teams in Eagleston’s last two seasons, but it never duplicated the state championship. In fact, in Eagleston’s senior season. West Forsyth reached the NCHSAA Class 4-A Western Regional championship but lost to Southern Pines Pinecrest 2-1 to finish 23-1.

“On one hand, for my team, I was very upset,” Eagleston said. “Losing is not fun. But we did play well, and there were positives to that game.”

The same thing is coming in the not-too-distant future for Eagleston’s college career. She’s coming down to the last few months as a college athlete.

“Looking back on my time at App, I know I mentioned this before, but I’ve grown not only as a player but as an individual,” she said. “And a lot of that is through the challenges that I’ve seen being a college athlete through missing class or through passing fitness tests, or honestly just the mental toll that playing a DI sport takes (on you).”

Eagleston plans on hanging up the cleats and goalkeeper gloves after the season. She interned this past semester as a social worker at an elementary school. This semester, she’ll be at a children’s advocacy center.

“It’s definitely something I have a passion for,” Eagleston said.