Kendall Gayton has learned a lot from others.
Now, she’s doing her best to pay it forward.
Gayton is a senior at Villa Joseph Marie High School and a three sport star.
Growing up, she was fortunate to have three older siblings – Riley and Delaney, who attended Basil’s, and Connor, a La Salle grad – who helped her navigate through tough times, both in sports and out.
Now, she’s doing the same for her younger siblings – Jordan, an eighth-grader at St. Matt’s who wants to attend Villa, and Gavin, a fifth-grader at St. Matt’s.
“Most of them are athletes, my oldest sister isn’t really, she’s more into plays and theater, but all of them pushed me to be better,” said Gayton, who lives in Mayfair. “My second-oldest sister pushed me a lot. Whenever I had a bad game or I’m in a slump, she’ll challenge me and push me past my limits. They’re great big sisters.
“My brother, we didn’t talk a lot (about sports), but we were close and I would relate to him because he was a baseball player and when he got into a slump, I’d watch him. He taught me you don’t always have to be great, that’s normal. I saw him work through it. It’s what you do after that matters.”
Now, she’s doing the same for her siblings.
“I feel like I set a good example for them,” she said. “If it’s not directly talking, they see it through my games and my emotions. I’m an emotional player, I play with heart and soul every game. I just want it all the time. I play hard, and they do the same. That makes me proud.”
It doesn’t end at home.
Gayton isn’t just learning from older siblings and passing that on. She’s doing the same with her teammates at Villa. And boy does she have a lot of teammates.
Her main sport is soccer, where she plays center back and center midfield for the Jems. During the winter, she plays the wing on the basketball team. And in the spring, her sport of choice was softball, but since getting to high school, she’s developed into a lacrosse star.
“When I was a freshman in soccer, I was on varsity but I didn’t play a lot,” Gayton said. “That year we made the state finals and I remember watching how much those girls wanted it. They were very good, very talented, and they worked so hard. That’s what made them so good. It motivated me.
“I remember being the younger player watching them and learning. They were role models. So I try to do the same because we have younger girls who are very good players. I want them to learn from me the same way I learned from them.”
And it’s worked.
The Jems are 9-2-2 and are battling it out for first place in the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies conference. They’re currently sitting second in the PIAA 3A girls soccer rankings, which will determine where the Jems end up in the state playoffs.
Winning the league is important, and Gayton hopes her squad remains atop the standings in the tough conference, but she also has high hopes for the state tournament.
As a freshman, she was on a team that lost in the state finals. She’d love to see her career come full circle and, this year, walk off the field with the championship.
“We have a really good team, but we play in a really tough league, so we play great competition,” said Gayton, mainly a defender who has one goal on the season. “We have a history of being district and state champs. We’ve been district and runner-up for state champs. But this year, we haven’t gotten to the playoffs, but when we get there, we really want to represent the school well.”
Gayton does that through athletics and in the classroom.
On top of playing three sports, she is an honors student, she’s a member of Athletes Helping Athletes and also helps at retreats, where she helps organize it and serves as a speaker for the freshmen, sophomore and junior classes.
She hopes to continue her success next year when she goes to college. She will focus on one sport, ideally soccer, and knows she’ll be extremely busy.
“Next year, I’m reaching out to colleges to play Division III soccer,” Gayton said. “I want to major in occupational therapy, I think. I wanted to do physical therapy because injuries have helped me evolve. I’ve come back stronger, but then I branched out and saw occupational therapy you’re helping them in a better way.
“When we were researching schools for college, we saw a lot of good schools and my mom helped me look into it more. It clicked into my brain that it would be something I’d really enjoy because you can make a difference.”
Just as she’s done at Villa Jo. And she couldn’t be happier with how things are going.
“I’m very glad I chose to go there,” Gayton said. “I wanted to branch out and I’m very happy with my decision. It’s been like a huge family to me, all the friends I made along the way. It’s been great, everything, sports and school. I’m very happy.”