Nat LeDonne Providing Unique Vantage Point of No. 1 Duke


Joe Robertson’s diving overtime winner that lifted No. 1 Duke over No. 3 North Carolina managed — somehow — to top the Blue Devils’ one-goal win over Syracuse a week prior that Mike Adler sealed with a last-second save. 

The same thing could be said about the photos of the stunning final sequences. 

“That’s insane!” Robertson thought when he first set eyes on the image of himself in flight. “How did she get that?” 

Duke Athletics staff photographer Nat LeDonne captured both plays. 


Mike Adler's last-second save against Syracuse preserved a one-goal victory for Duke. It was the first of two-game winning moments that Nat LeDonne captured in back-to-back weeks for Duke Athletics.

“If I had to pick one, definitely the diving goal,” LeDonne said earlier this week when asked about her favorite between the two shots that received widespread praise on social media.  

In the moments after Robertson’s goal, LeDonne was preoccupied taking player reaction photos for Duke’s social media team to share. But once everything calmed down, she got a moment to look back through the files from her Nikon D5 to see if she got the shot she wanted. She did. Then it was her turn to celebrate. 

Still, she never imagined the final product would receive the attention it has. 

“I was just focused on making sure I got the shot that I didn’t really look at it as clearly as obviously some of these other people have,” LeDonne said. “I’m just honored and thrilled that all these people like it so much.”

LeDonne similarly talks about her job with the “pinch-me” awe of someone who gets to do what she loves every day. A Salem (Va.) native — like Robertson — LeDonne got her first camera, a Sony point-and-shoot, during her senior year of high school before a family trip to the North Carolina Zoo. She didn’t start taking pictures in earnest until her freshman year at the University of Lynchburg. 

“Wow,” she realized at the time. “This is kind of fun. Let me see how far it will take me.” 

Summer photography internships at the Minnesota Zoo and North Carolina Zoo soon followed. LeDonne, who played basketball, volleyball and soccer in high school, began making connections in the sports world and freelanced for Virginia Tech and Liberty University her senior year, in addition to producing photography for Lynchburg’s communications, marketing and athletic departments.

A chance encounter with Reagan Lunn, Duke’s Director of Athletics Photography, at Lynchburg led to shooting Duke football games in the fall of 2017. LeDonne made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Durham two or three times per week during her final semester to cover more events.  

She joined Duke full-time as an Assistant Athletics Photographer in the summer of 2018. 

“I’m so grateful and thankful that Duke took a chance on me,” she said of the opportunity that helped turn her passion into her profession.  

The job has also provided a unique vantage point of the men’s lacrosse team that’s compiled the most impressive resume in the country in 2021. Since Duke’s COVID-19 protocols have restricted outside media and fans alike from attending games, LeDonne is one of a select few that’s seen the Blue Devils play in person at Koskinen Stadium. She stays above the goal line to avoid oncoming shots and away from the opposing team’s bench but otherwise has free range of the sidelines along with Duke senior producer Rebecca Fiorentino. 

Like every team she covers, LeDonne has developed a familiarity with their tendencies on the field in hopes that it puts her in the right place at the right time. There are exceptions. 

“He’s hard to track,” LeDonne said of Princeton graduate transfer Michael Sowers, sharing a sentiment felt by most defenses. “He’s a fast one and keeps me on my toes.”

During the UNC timeout that preceded Robertson’s winning goal, LeDonne moved closer to the restraining line from GLE to give herself a good range of view in case Duke swarmed the goal scorer or Adler. A week earlier, she hustled closer to the goal line when Syracuse called a timeout with 4.4 seconds remaining in regulation. She positioned herself so the action, in theory, would move towards her. Owen Hiltz and Stephen Rehfuss had other ideas

“It worked out how it worked out,” LeDonne said. “I guess it turned out better than I thought.” 


Duke photographer Nat LeDonne captured Joe Robertson's dramatic game-winning goal against North Carolina in a matchup of the top two teams in the country at the time.

LeDonne has yet to travel with the men’s lacrosse team this spring because of its limited travel roster and the loaded schedule every weekend in Durham. On Saturday, she’ll cover a men’s tennis match, then a women’s lacrosse game and then finish with some baseball. While the topic hasn’t yet come up, she hopes she’ll get the chance to chronicle the Blue Devils in the NCAA lacrosse tournament.  

Beyond their obvious success thus far, LeDonne noted that the team seems even more excited and energized than usual this spring given the way last season ended. 

She feels the same way.

“That whole saying, ‘You don’t understand what you have until it’s gone,’ is so real,” she said. “After not shooting games and having the question of, ‘Are we going to have games this year at all?’ I want to enjoy every moment I have out there.”

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