Northwest College sophomore Ellie Thomas was only nine digs away from breaking the single season record when an injury in warmups nearly derailed not just her chance at the record, but the …
Northwest College sophomore Ellie Thomas was only nine digs away from breaking the single season record when an injury in warmups nearly derailed not just her chance at the record, but the rest of her final season with the Trappers.
The Gillette native was injured in warmups just hours before a home match against Western Wyoming on Oct. 14, changing her perspective and role after she had been one of the most played Trappers over her two-year career.
“I was very angry with the role I had to accept at first right after I got injured,” she said. “The more I thought about what coach [Scott Keister] told me right after I got hurt, the more I realized he was right. He told me ‘try to keep yourself in a good head space,’ and the day it happened that was a struggle for me.”
That frustration on Thomas’ part put her into an unfamiliar role for her teammates — a source of support and leadership from the bench.
“I stepped into a role I hadn’t had to be in, but so did my teammates having to step into my shoes for the game against Western Wyoming that day and the other games after that as well,” Thomas said. “Elsa [Clark] and Sierra [Kilts] both did amazing stepping in and doing what they needed to do when they were needed to do it. Watching them succeed made it a lot easier for me to accept it.”
For the first week Thomas was unable to even practice. So, Thomas spent time with Northwest athletic trainer Alan Hill working her way back onto the court through remedies and strength training twice daily.
“I wasn’t able to do anything the first week or so after I got injured,” Thomas said. “I would E-stem in the mornings before practice and then I got to sit and watch my teammates practice and help out where I could.”
That sideline role continued to mold and evolve, with Thomas taking her spot as a supportive teammate and helping coach up her teammates on the sideline.
“I liked being able to see things from a coach’s perspective though while I was on the sideline,” she said. “It’s an interesting thing to get to experience and almost helps you understand the mind of your coach a lot more.”
SOPHOMORE NIGHT RECORD
After spending three more matches on the sideline after Western Wyoming, Thomas was able to reach a level of fitness that she felt would allow her to play in her final match at Northwest.
“I stepped on the court the night of sophomore night knowing that I wasn’t completely healed yet, but I was going to go out with everything I had for my teammates, my coaches and myself,” Thomas said.
Northwest was unable to find the victory on the night against the newly formed volleyball program in her hometown, Gillette College.
However, Thomas smashed past the single season record of 504, which was held previously by Paige Weimer, who set it in 2021-22. Thomas finished the night with 20 digs in her final match and ended with 516 on the year.
“It was something I had my eyes set on at the beginning of the season and was something I really wanted to accomplish this season,” Thomas said. “To do that at our last game in front of a home crowd was very special to me. I got to do something special in front of a community that has rallied around sports at the college and in front of all my family made the moment even more special.”
ADDITIONAL RECORD AND FUTURE PLANS
Thomas had also beaten the school all-time record earlier in the season in a match against the Rocky Mountain JV, smashing past the 923 also recorded by Weimer and finishing with 967 over her two years at Northwest.
She finished as one of the top digs players in the nation, ranking 26th in total digs as the Region IX North had five of those top 26 in the nation prior to the national tournament, which begins on Wednesday in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Now that Thomas has completed her two years, she remembers a fond time at Northwest while looking towards her future.
“I wouldn’t trade my time spent at NWC for anything,” Thomas said. “I have grown so much as a person on and off the court that it makes me excited for my next steps in life, but also sad to close this chapter.”
She said she plans to graduate from Northwest with an associate’s degree in criminal justice in December, while searching for the next place she will play when she transfers in the spring.