BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
OWEGO - Owego's Grace Thomas was recently named the Section IV Player of the Year by the New York Volleyball Coaches Association. It's one of several honors the Indians' senior setter has earned during her career and she doesn't take it for granted.
"It means a lot to me, because I've worked really hard," she said. "I don't look for having recognition like that. I just work hard all the time, but it's really nice to know that my hard work paid off and was able to rewarded as the Section IV Player of the Year. I'm honored and thankful for the coaches to be voting for me."
Thomas, who handed out 672 assists this past season and has been on two state championship and two state runner-up teams, is a two-time first-team all-state selection and has been chosen for the all-tournament team at the state championships twice. She has also been named STAC all-conference three times and was selected to the Bill Mott Invitational all-tournament team at Windsor this past season. Thomas was also pocked as the Block O "unsung hero" award winner last year "because of her unselfish play and personality," according to Owego head coach Brittney Race.
"Grace is the kind of athlete that you can tell anything to and she will turn around and do it immediately," Race said. "The things she can make happen on the court wouldn't happen without her physical and mental abilities. She dedicates herself to whatever she is doing whether it is volleyball or something else. She is a hard worker who not only has physical skill but mental strengths as well. She is one of the smartest athletes I know and have had the pleasure of coaching. Grace knows the game inside and out and there is nothing she doesn't understand or can't do."
Much of Thomas' success on the court comes from the amount of time she dedicates to the sport, but she also credits her teammates and coaches for helping her achieve this most recent accomplishment.
"Without them I wouldn't be the player I am today, especially Brittney Race," she said. "She's the reason I am the volleyball player I am today and I'm really grateful for that.
"I think that she pushes us hard and I appreciate that, because once she pushes us hard she knows that we're better than we were, so then she knows our potential that we have, which I really like. It's kind of like if she's not saying anything, it's not a good thing. I like the constant talk because it keeps me involved in the game, so I really do like that. That's the type of coach that I like."
Thomas says the other players on the team are dedicated as well.
"Everyone definitely works hard," she said. "They may not be ‘the best,' but they work every single day to be better, which is really great because you don't want to be someone who just doesn't work hard and kind of accepts it. You want to be someone who is like, ‘I'm going to get it this time and I'm going to get it next year.' That's kind of the drive we have. We can always do something better, so that's good for them, and I like that because it's a great team chemistry that we have. We all want to be better, which is good."
Thomas also acknowledges the support she receives from her family.
"The support I get at home is definitely very helpful to be able to have the work ethic and hard work and dedication that I do and I thank my family for that," she said. "My dad and my mom are very supportive parents and my siblings, my brother and sister, are very supportive too, she said of her parents, Todd and Darlene, and her siblings, Courtney and Zach. My grandparents (Lloyd and Mickey Thomas) are also very supportive. They come to everything and they're always there for me and I really appreciate that."
Thomas; work ethic and success has made her a leader on and off the court. And she embraces it with dignity.
"Being a setter, leadership comes with the role, because you're coordinating everything that's going on on the court," she said.
That leadership role has made her teammates comfortable in approaching her for advice off the court as well.
"I think that people can come up to me if they need something or if they have a question. I feel like I might be the one that they come to, which is nice to know, in case they need help or something."
The team members have a pretty good relationship off the court, according to Thomas.
"Every time I see someone in the hall, we always say hi to each other, we always smile at each other, and we like to do things with each other," she said.
During the season the teammates participate in activities, such as a movie night, and even though they may do other things separate from one another during the off-season, Thomas said they do keep in touch occasionally.
Some of the team members participate in other sports, like Evee Coleman, who is playing a key role on Owego's girls basketball team which is currently 10-0 and ranked sixth in the state in Class B.
Thomas sees a connection in the success of both programs.
"I think the players that make up a good team definitely are great teammates to other team members, even if it's not volleyball, like basketball. Evee is a great teammate and she works really hard and I'm 100-percent positive that she's doing that in basketball too. She's like a great all-around athlete."
Thomas devotes a lot of time and effort to volleyball, which gives her plenty of opportunities to hone her skills, not just on the high school squad, but during travel ball as well.
"I do volleyball all year round," she said. "I usually have two weeks off of volleyball for the whole year."
She also frequents the workout room, to participate in workouts greed toward helping her stay in volleyball shape.
Following the high school season, which usually begins the second week in August and ends, most of the time for Owego, at the state tournament the third weekend in November, Thomas heads into the travel season, competing for the Whirlwind Volleyball Club. The club season runs until late June, when she gets a couple weeks off before starting the summer season of club ball.
Thomas is currently playing with Owego teammate Kaylee Kelly. Last year, it was Thomas, Kelly and Owego grads McKenzie Hart and Brinn Shaughnessy playing together. Hart and Shaughnessy just completed their freshman seasons with Nazareth College and SUNY Fredonia, respectively.
Likewise, Thomas looks forward to the possibility of taking her talents to the next level.
"If I get accepted to Geneseo, I think I want to go there and hopefully play volleyball," she said. Thomas hopes to become a veterinarian.
All the victories and awards are nice, but the greatest tribute to Thomas is the fact she has become a role model for aspiring young volleyball players to follow.
"There is no one like Grace," Race said. "She is a really amazing person and I truly hope that my daughter is just like her when she grows up. Grace is the most unselfish person I have met and that is what has made her such a great setter. Setters don't often get a lot of glory because they are just the assist to the kill and if you can't get past that fact then you won't be a good setter. Setting is a position that makes everyone else look good and Grace was able to do that because of her unselfish personality. Grace would do anything for anyone and she was the teammate that everyone could go to. Even our young players look up to Grace!"
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