Meet Kerri Clayton: 'The Architect' of Sun Devil Lacrosse
A pillar is defined as a brick or stone structure designed to help hold up a building or monument. While Arizona State University graduate student Kerri Clayton has learned about this and more in her architecture courses, she is in the midst of her last season as an attacker for the Sun Devil Lacrosse team. And even though she is entering her final campaign, this pillar of the lacrosse program is far from finished.
Well before her collegiate career had even begun, Clayton had a stick in her hand. She started playing lacrosse in a co-ed league back in her hometown of Baltimore when she was only three years old. In addition to lacrosse, Clayton was a well versed athlete growing up with a resume that included, but was not limited to, swimming, tennis, and field hockey.
"I always played a sport each season that was different from lacrosse," Clayton said.
But despite the versatility, lacrosse was the clear favorite. Clayton played with a club team throughout the summers and committed to Jacksonville University as just a sophomore in high school. After the commitment she continued to impress. In her junior season Clayton accounted for 50 goals and thirteen assists while her team was ranked thirteenth in the nation.
Even with all of her experience in the competitive northeast club lacrosse circuit, the college level was a whole new endeavor.
"It's a way faster game," Clayton said. "Everyone is at that next level so it's more competitive, it's faster, it's definitely more physical."
The jump did not prove too much of a challenge. In her first season at Jacksonville, Clayton appeared in 14 games and started four, while racking up three goals, an assist, and seven ground balls. But Clayton did have help to ease the process.
"I was lucky, I didn't have a hard time transitioning," Clayton said. "I played on a team with a bunch of people I knew, so it was easy for me to slide in and keep playing."
The next big change in Clayton's life did not prove as simple. After her freshman season, Clayton redshirted and transferred across the country to Arizona State. If the distance was not enough, the Sun Devils were not even fielding a lacrosse team at the time. But with real plans for a program in the works, she had no trouble making the most of it.
"There was, I think, sixteen of us when we first came and red-shirted," Clayton said. "That was nice to know that I had friends at least... It was what I was looking for, that definitely made the transition easier."
Outside of lacrosse and her new teammates, many different factors helped Clayton get adjusted to her new environment. She said living in Arizona and playing for the Sun Devils gave her the opportunity to meet new friends and travel to different places. In the midst of all these new experiences, it's been hard for Clayton to ignore the weather.
"I mean it's like, blizzarding everywhere and we were practicing in our shorts and t-shirts. You definitely can't beat that," Clayton joked.
After her redshirt year, Clayton hit the ground running in the program's inaugural season in 2018. She led the team with 44 goals, was tied for the team lead with 15 assists, and accounted for at least one point in all but one game. She picked up right where she left off in her redshirt junior season. Again she led the team in goals with 33 while also racking up 13 assists. She accounted for a point in 15 of the team's 18 games that season and was named a captain for the second consecutive year.
In her redshirt senior season Clayton was on a insane pace, scoring 29 goals to go along with 12 assists before the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of the abrupt shutdown, the NCAA granted spring sport athletes an extra year of athletic eligibility. With the opportunity to come back on the table, Clayton had long talks with both her family and her coaches before deciding to come back for what would be her sixth collegiate lacrosse season.
"Our coach used this quote, 'House money'," Clayton said. "You have extra time. Nothing's relying on it, you're kind of just going out and playing on house money. It's kind of how this year is."
When Clayton hangs up her cleats and stick at the end of this season, next year will mark the first time in program history the Arizona State lacrosse team will take the field without her. In her time since the team's inception, Clayton has had a front row seat to the program's growth.
"Everyone is just excited about it and that's really great," she said. "It's hard to start a program. You start at ground zero and I think that everything has been put in place to make it successful."
Clayton called the experience of being with the program since the beginning, "bittersweet". And though the experience was not always easy, it has left a strong impact on her.
"It's nice knowing I'll always be a part of that first team," she said. "But it's definitely like, 'Wow, we've had to put in a lot of work to get to where we are.'"
From the beginning, Clayton has attacked every challenge with the full support of her parents. Like many girls on the team, Clayton's parents made the effort to go to nearly every game, despite the long trek from Baltimore. Even in year six, the cross country trips to root her on still resonate with Clayton.
"They've definitely made some sacrifices," she said. "They have been nothing but supportive for me, and they're always going to be. I'm very grateful that I got to end up [at ASU] and play… they've been there every step."
While in the middle of her final season as a collegiate athlete, Clayton is also focusing on her future away from the lacrosse field. On her path to a Master's degree in architecture, Clayton is hoping to find an internship in the Valley. The lacrosse captain said her experience with team sports proved advantageous when working on group projects. She also said the time management she needed to employ as a student athlete is a skill that will prove valuable later.
"Kind of like knowing what's important to be worrying about," she said. "So like there's certain things on a team that aren't important to be worrying about, same thing goes for your Master's."
Through ten games this season Clayton has helped the team to historic start. For the first time in program history, Sun Devil Lacrosse was ranked in a major national poll, coming in at No. 20 in the Inside Lacrosse poll on March 31. Arizona State is off to a 7-3 start over, with the seven wins already representing a single-season program record. She also has been a big reason why the Maroon & Gold are 4-2 in conference, their best start ever in Pac-12 play. Clayton had 11 points (six goals and five assists) in Sun Devil Lacrosse's first win over a Top-20 team in program history.
Long after Clayton's gone, her name will still be in the team record books. In her four-year career, Clayton has the most points (184) and goals (128) in program history. And as she prepares to move on from college lacrosse to work on new projects, the prospective architect is leaving Tempe having built a program that is here to stay.