By JOSEPH FULLBRIGHT
The Western Athletic Conference volleyball media day typically carries a significant amount of weight for the sports’ season. Here, the coaches of the respective conferences teams come together to cast their votes for individual accolades and what they believe the standings will look like.
It was a big day for New Mexico State, as they were not just the overwhelming favorite to win the WAC, but had one of their own selected as the WAC Preseason Player of the Year in Sasha-Lee Thomas.
Thomas, entering her junior season, is coming off of a solid campaign in which she compiled 204 kills to go along with a team-high 114 blocks.
The award has great meaning to her, but she says she is focused on the upcoming season, “It’s good, but now I actually have to go out there and get the [regular] season [WAC] player of the year” she said.
The pressure to perform will certainly be there, as Thomas looks to anchor a squad looking to replace a five valuable seniors who graduated last year.
“It’s going to be really hard because those were the people that we depended on” she said, “Now that they’re gone, it’s hard to figure out who’s going to be that person to step in their shoes.”
Thomas is surely one of the players that will be counted on to be one of the team’s best players, but she is not worried about the pressure.
“I know that for my team, I just have to go out and play big every game. I’m not really focused on being the preseason player [of the year]. I’m just focusing on getting my team wins” she said.
The Kingston, Jamaica native finished last season with 204 kills, good for fourth on the team, and 114 blocks, which led the squad. She takes great pride in being a dominant force on both sides of the net.
“On the defensive side, it’s more special when you get a block” she said, “It’s a better feeling than getting a kill. I would rather be first on the team in blocks than kills.”
Last season’s performance earned her a Second Team All-WAC selection.
Following her freshman season in 2014, Thomas was named to the All- WAC Freshman team thanks to her 145 kills and 93 blocks before suffering a season-ending injury causing her to miss the final four regular season games in addition to the WAC Tournament. This was after she medically redshirted the entire 2013 season following an injury.
Health is an important issue for Thomas, who credits her resistance to injury as key to her improvement in performance over the years.
“My key to keep on improving is just to stay healthy, because every year, it seems like I’m kept off the court by some kind of injury, so my key is just to stay healthy for my team.” She played in all 36 of the Aggies’ games last season, something she was not able to do in any other year in her career.
Thomas, a Kinesiology major, plans to pursue to play professional volleyball overseas before she begins a career in her field of study.
Despite having to replace the five seniors and having the pressure that comes with being the WAC Preseason Player of the Year, her expectations remain very high for the Aggies: “My expectation is to win the big games like [vs.] Arizona, Texas A&M and other
the big games like [vs.] Arizona, Texas A&M and other non-conference games. Then, to win the WAC and actually try to get to the second round of the NCAA [tournament] this year” she said.