Tewaaraton Award finalist? Check. Preseason all-Big East? Check. Third team preseason All-American? Check. Big-time pressure? You’d better believe it.
But Georgetown junior midfielder Sophia Thomas is used to it all by now, and Head Coach Ricky Fried knows her situation.
“[It’s] really kind of focusing on ‘OK, I’m going to work on improving certain aspects of my game,’ and I think that’s what Sophia’s done so well,” said Fried. “She’s trying to become a better student of the game, understand it much better. She’s working on her defensive end. So she’s focusing on becoming a complete player [and] not really focusing on those outward expectations.”
Thomas was quick to emphasize the importance of the team over any of her own hype.
“People have given me the confidence to put me in that position, which is kind of a bigger opportunity I think,” she said.
Pointing to past standouts like Maggie Cook and Coco Stanwick, Fried acknowledged that there is a definite precedent within the program for the kind of attention that Thomas has gotten. But that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.
“The challenge is not getting caught up in what other people expect out of you and just playing to the best of your ability. And that can be hard in the lacrosse world, because everybody has an opinion on everything, and everybody seems to want to share it pretty readily,” Fried said.
For the first few games of the 2012 campaign, Thomas’s play might not have screamed “All-American.” While the lauded Maryland native may have netted five goals in the Hoyas’ first two wins over Delaware and Villanova, those tallies didn’t have much of an effect on the games’ ultimate results.
Then, in subsequent matchups with fourth-ranked Duke and fifth-ranked Florida, Thomas was largely a non-factor as the Blue and Gray suffered 14-7 and 12-9 defeats, respectively. And while she scored two goals against Johns Hopkins on March 14, it would prove insufficient, as the Blue and Gray suffered a third straight loss.
“[It was] definitely mentally straining,” Thomas said. “As an offense, we had a lot of shots, [but] we went 2-of-24 on our free position shots, and I think it just got to our head for a little bit. But then Ricky [told us], ‘Everyone needs to calm down and just play the game,’ and I think everyone [stopped] freaking out about everything. The stress was gone, and everyone started playing to their capabilities.”
That change was clearly reflected in the team’s defeat of previously undefeated and second-ranked North Carolina last Saturday. In probably the Hoyas’ toughest game of the season, a total team effort allowed Thomas to deliver the game-winning goal with three minutes remaining.
While Thomas immediately deflected the attention toward sophomore midfielder Hannah Franklin — who had four goals in the Hoyas’ upset win — she did admit that the UNC game-winner was a still a big moment for her.
“Showing up and proving that you can do it is always a confidence builder for the future,” Thomas said.
And the effects of that confidence were evident in the team’s 11-9 win over Penn.
“I think she’s starting to come into her own for this season,” Fried said. “The expectations can wear on you a little bit at the beginning, but I think at this point it’s just about playing the game. And that’s what she’s focused on now.”
According to Thomas, these nonconference wins are just the beginning and are hardly the end goal.
“Right now we’re focusing on these two games [against North Carolina and Penn] not being the highlight of our season but just momentum-building wins and hoping they’ll carry us through the Big East season.”
The second game of the conference slate for the Hoyas comes this Saturday against 16th-ranked Loyola (Md.), whose 11-7 defeat of Johns Hopkins Feb. 29 speaks to the level of talent they possess.
“They have a veteran defensive group, they have a solid goalie in the cage, and they have young, athletic offensive players,” Fried said of the 4-3 Greyhounds, who are likely to be hungry coming off a loss at No. 20 James Madison earlier in the week.
“I think the big key for us is continuing to play team defense and limiting their transition opportunities, because they thrive in transition,” Fried said. “[If] we can do those things, I think we’ll be pretty successful.”
The forecast for Saturday afternoon calls for thunderstorms, conditions which are likely to have some impact on the play style of the game. Regardless, Fried is confident in his squad.
“[There are] a lot of things that we’ve corrected and improved on since the Hopkins game, and we just want to continue to make strides,” he said.
“We want to make sure that we come out ready to play and know that [Loyola is] going to bring their A-game, so we’ve got to do the same thing.”