Before Alex Thomas was scoring goals at a near record pace, she was turning flips.
Her athletic career began in gymnastics.
But then one day …
“I think I was doing a flip and sprained my ankle, and that was the end of my gymnastics career,” Thomas recalled.
She then dabbled in basketball and softball for a few years, then decided to give soccer a try when she was 8.
“It was fun to me and stuck,” she said.
Gymnastics’ loss was soccer’s gain.
Ten years later, and Thomas is still reaping the benefits.
She was named Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year on Tuesday. It was the second straight year she has won the award and it came on the day of her high school graduation at Ben Franklin High School.
Thomas is just the third repeat winner since the award began in 1998. She joins two-time winners Shellie Harmon of Country Day ( 2001, ’02) and Delaney Sheehan of Mandeville (2012, ’13).
“To win it again means I am doing the right things and still heading on the right track,” Thomas said. “I hope it says that I haven’t leveled off and I’m still improving.”
The forward scored 57 goals and had 15 assists as a senior, leading the Falcons (23-0-2) to their third consecutive Division II state championship.
“She probably could have scored 100 goals this season if I let her,” Ben Franklin coach Jose Ferrand said earlier when Thomas was named The New Orleans’ Advocate Player of the Year for a second straight season.
Ben Franklin was 63-0-2 over the past three seasons, never losing to an in-state opponent.
“She is a special player,” St. Thomas More coach Daniel Underwood said. “Even though you game plan to try and stop her, she’s able to adapt and create opportunities for herself and teammates.”
Her success in sports shouldn’t come as a surprise. Her mother, Erika Mann, was a volleyball player.
And her father, Daryl Thomas, was a former football standout at West Jefferson before going on to play at Southern Miss.
But Alex’s love was soccer, although she continued playing softball and basketball at Ben Franklin.
“In softball, you’re standing around and waiting for something to happen,” Thomas said. “I liked the action of soccer. There was action in basketball, too, but in soccer I was fast and I could always run past people when I was little and could constantly score.”
She doesn’t point to soccer phenoms like Abby Wambach or Cristiane as her greatest soccer influences. Thomas credits the girls she has played with at Ben Franklin and in club soccer over the years.
“My club team has had nine ACL tears between a few of our players,” Thomas said.” One girl tore her (knee( three times and she’s still playing. Seeing that drive is what motivates me. For them to go through that and be at the level they are is what inspires me.”
Thomas didn’t win the Gatorade honor just because of her success on the pitch.
The award also recognizes high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character off the field.
She has maintained a 3.96 grade point average in the classroom. She serves as an English and Latin tutor in her school and has volunteered locally at a nursing home and multiple youth sports programs.
She said managing three sports and that workload isn’t as hard as it seems.
“I’ve done it since I was young, so it becomes routine,” Thomas said. “My mom has been the biggest help. She helped me through it all. She helped me juggle it and taught me how to manage my time. I just know I have to get this done. To me, playing sports makes it easier because you don’t have all the time to procrastinate.”
Thomas will play next season at LSU, where she will major in major in pre-medicine. She hopes to become an anesthesiologist.
“Mainly I want people to remember me for that part of me outside of soccer,” she said. “And how much work it took for me to get here.”