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11/29/12JHU vs Hood (10/6/12)
Oct. 16, 2012
By Sean Ellenby, Johns Hopkins Athletic Communications
A month removed from the Johns Hopkins volleyball team's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, three-time captain Amelia Thomas was unsatisfied.
The writing was on the wall for Thomas prior to the 2011 season. Head coach Matt Troy had recruited arguably the most talented class in Hopkins history, loaded with seven players 5'10'' or taller. As a result, the 5'7" Thomas had two options: remain at outside hitter in a limited role, or recreate her entire skillset and switch to libero to fill a hole in the Blue Jays' lineup.
As it turned out, making the decision to switch to libero would be the easy decision for Thomas, but the months that followed were difficult. The leader sacrificed playing time during her junior season, gaining exposure to the new defensive-minded position as she learned to lead and motivate from the sideline.
"It was hard because I knew the game so well, but being in the new position was uncomfortable," Thomas said. "But then it also fueled my fire again this [past] offseason to really give it my all."
Thomas gained confidence in the offseason as a coach alongside current Hopkins assistant coach Jenn Feldmann with the Columbia Volleyball Club, gathering an entirely new perspective on the game.
"I gained so much knowledge on playing the game because it was a new way of describing it and you really had to understand how to do it yourself before you could teach the kids," Thomas said. "And so when I came back in the spring for our spring season, my game was completely changed."
Noting Thomas as the "ultimate team player," Troy was impressed, yet unsurprised by Thomas' rapid growth in the offseason.
"She's always asking questions - where she needs to be, how she should field this - and she's worked with the coaches really well," Troy said. "There's no greater reward for me than to see her starting on the court."
Thomas' hard work has paid dividends thus far in 2012, as the senior has played in 88% of the Blue Jays' sets - a far cry from just 49% in 2011. Further, the senior currently ranks fourth in the Centennial Conference in total digs (314) and digs/set (4.24).
Most importantly for Thomas, however, has been the spectacular success of Hopkins as a team in 2012. After setting a program record for consecutive wins to begin the season (16), Hopkins currently sits at 21-3 and recently received votes in the American Volleyball Coach's Association Division III Poll for the first time in program history.
Troy, who has had Thomas as a captain since he took over the reigns as head coach in 2010, credits her strong leadership qualities as a reason for the program's accomplishments over the last two seasons.
"I don't think there's anyone that is respected more than her," Troy said. "She's one of our most vocal leaders and our biggest leader by example and it's very tough to find somebody with those two qualities in one."
Alongside fellow seniors Carolyn Mickelson and Becky Paynter, Thomas faces the interesting dynamic of leading a massive team that includes 16 freshmen and sophomores. Displaying the maturity of a three-year captain, the senior has made it a point of emphasis to make sure her void is filled next season.
"I guess now I've started to realize I have to make sure that our success is sustained throughout the team," Thomas said. "So simple things like instead of making the warm-up CD, I had the underclassmen make it so they got the hang of it."
Before she relinquishes her reigns, however, Thomas has big goals for the remainder of the season, including a second consecutive Centennial Conference crown.
"Our big goal is to get past the first round of the NCAA's," Thomas said. "I think we can because we didn't have that experience last year going into [the tournament], but now we have that feeling of being in the big gym and competing for such high stakes."
Regardless of the end-of-season outcome, the senior can proudly look back on the team's achievements during her four-year tenure. After winning just 16 games in 2009, Hopkins has steadily climbed each season and boasts a phenomenal 56-9 record since October 6, 2010 - a mark Thomas credits to Troy.
"I think that with Matt [Troy] coming in the structure has really improved," Thomas said. "From when I started it was very clear who the starters and non-starters were, but [now] each practice is a fight to start so I think that shows how much we've grown."
A three-time member of the Dean's List, Thomas is set to graduate with a degree in public health and an impressive 3.41 GPA. She spent the past summer in the Governor's Summer Internship Program, developing a policy called "Moms Ride Free" that was later presented to Governor Martin O'Malley.
The policy tackles Maryland's high infant mortality rate, as it incentivizes attendance of health care appointments by providing free transportation for expectant mothers on Medicaid. Thomas notes that the Governor took great interest in the proposal and is currently pushing legislation for a two-year pilot of the project.
Upon graduation, Thomas looks forward to the possibility of furthering her experiences abroad before returning to graduate school.
"My interest is in global public health, so I just applied to be an English teaching assistant in South Africa," Thomas said. "Before I go to graduate school, I want to get more experience, but still learn and focus on what I really want to do."