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ND Women’s Soccer: Freshman Thomas leads front line into tournament

By Matthew Robison | Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In just her first season in an Irish uniform, freshman forward Crystal Thomas has already made quite a splash, garnering two Big East accolades in the process. At the Big East awards banquet Nov. 1, the conference named Thomas to the Big East all-rookie team and second-team all-conference.

“I was just very honored by it and thankful to my teammates and my coaches for helping me get there,” Thomas said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

With a young squad nicknamed the “Baby Irish” by Irish coach Randy Waldrum, Thomas and the other 11 freshmen on the team were forced to take big roles quickly. Thomas quickly found her niche on the front line, and she said her teammates have improved and grown into their respective roles, as well.

Waldrum has stressed playing complete games. Early in the year, Notre Dame (14-5-2, 8-1-1 Big East) had trouble performing at a high level for the entire match. But Thomas said the Irish are improving in that area.

“The team has grown this season in that we know how to put two halves together,” Thomas said. “We’re learning how to finish out games, how to hang on to the lead, or come from behind and win the game.”

Individually, Thomas has developed into a complete offensive player this season, notching a team-high 18 points on eight goals and two assists.

“I think I’ve grown as a player in learning how to work with my teammates,” Thomas said. “Finishing the ball and putting it in the back of the net is a lot different than it is at the club level. I’ve learned a lot from my coaches and my teammates on how to be a better teammate and be more productive on the field.”

When Thomas joined the Irish, Notre Dame lacked veteran leadership, especially compared to past Irish squads. However, Thomas quickly found a mentor in junior midfielder Elizabeth Tucker.

“Elizabeth Tucker is a great role model on the team and for the team,” Thomas said. “She’s a great leader. And she shows by example how to act and play both on and off the field. She can always get us all on the same page.”

In addition to becoming an elite scoring threat in the future, Thomas hopes she can develop into a player her teammates can look to for guidance, just like Tucker.

“I want to be a leader on the team that steps up and is dangerous and makes plays happen and scores goals for my team,” Thomas said. “I want to be someone that they can depend on both on and off the field.”

Thomas and the other freshmen are in the midst of experiencing something none of them have before: NCAA postseason play. After being knocked out of the Big East tournament in the semifinal round by Marquette, Notre Dame rebounded with a 3-1 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday in Alumni Stadium.

“We are taking it one game at a time,” Thomas said. “It’s a challenge. But we’re trying to focus on the next game. It’s totally new to a lot of us. But you have to win to move on. So we’re going in with that mindset. We’re looking forward to a long season ahead of us.”

Unseeded Notre Dame will face its next challenge Friday in a match-up with No. 3 seed Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Gainesville, Fla. The game begins at 4:30 p.m.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu