Avarie Thomas is competing in the biggest championship game so far in her career as a Mustang athlete – and it’s likely going to be just the first of many.
Only in her first year with the Mustangs, the dual sport student athlete – who plays in both the women’s soccer and basketball teams – has already received an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) all-star award. And now she and her teammates are vying for the top title as they face off against Queen’s Gaels in the OUA women’s soccer championship this Friday.
A natural athlete, according to her coaches, Thomas has become an integral part of the Mustangs women’s soccer team. “Avarie has played several positions on the team so far this season and has been effective in all roles. But for now, she is most comfortable as a central defender and has settled in there,” said Martin Painter, the team’s head coach.
Fast, agile and strong are qualities that Painter saw in Thomas as an athlete. “She is also versatile and can play several positions.”
Painter spoke about Avarie’s contributions to the success of the women’s soccer team. “She is a key defender but is also very involved in building attacks. She is a quiet leader who steps up in key moments. Off the field she is a supportive and thoughtful teammate. She is also a very reflective and intelligent athlete who is developing a good tactical understanding of the game. I think she could become an amazing coach in the future.”
Following the OUA Championship, Thomas and the Mustangs will move on to compete in the U SPORTS Soccer Championships. She will then turn her focus to the Mustangs women’s basketball team, with an eye toward a championship run as well.
Homegrown varsity athlete
Thomas started at Western in 2020, in a year when competitive sport was virtually non-existent due to the pandemic. Coming to campus this fall for in-person courses and sport has been a very positive change, according to Thomas.
“I have really enjoyed my second year at Western. It is nice that some of my classes are on campus and we have been able to practice and socialize as a team. I am taking kinesiology, and exercise physiology is my favourite course because it is interesting to take a closer look at metabolic systems and relating them back to what I am doing on the field and court.”
Thomas, who is from London, Ont., chose Western because of its great reputation as a top institution. “Western offers excellent academic programs and a sense of community. I was also excited to be given the opportunity to be a varsity athlete in my hometown!”
Her passion for soccer came from watching her older sister Cierra play. She has strong roots in the London soccer community. “I started playing for the London Timbits Soccer League and then quickly moved on to play for the North London Soccer Club.”
She also credits her sister for inspiring her. “My sister Cierra has been a huge inspiration and support network [for me]. Not only has she had a successful four-year soccer career at the university level, she also addresses the bigger issues off the field. She constantly advocates for female empowerment in sports and she was an active contributor to the symposium Women To The Forefront and speaking about racism in sports.”
Basketball came a little later for Thomas. “My dad played competitive basketball and soccer and really wanted to give me the same opportunities. I believe I started playing at age 8 and I have had a passion for it ever since. I was encouraged by my parents and coaches to join competitive leagues and I have been very grateful over the years that all my coaches have recognized my talent to be successful in both sports competitively.”
Thomas spent 10 seasons playing for the London Ramblers culminating in her final season where she was named second team all-star and first team all-defensive in the top club league in Canada. She was a team leader at Lucas High School and was named ‘Miss Basketball’ by the Thames Valley District School Board in her final year of high school competition.
“We are very fortunate to have Avarie as part of our sport community and can’t wait to see all she accomplishes on the court, on the pitch, in the classroom and in the community during her time at Western. This is just the start for a very special young woman,” said Nate McKibbon, head coach of the Mustangs women’s basketball.
“Not many people can do what Avarie does on the pitch and on the court. Her technical ability, athleticism and competitiveness allow her to make impacts in both sports. While she can be very quiet outside of sport, her stoic nature speaks volumes when she is competing.”
Thomas gets a lot of motivation from her teammates, and credits the leadership of some of the senior members of the women’s soccer team for its success this year. “Everyone is disciplined and has a great work ethic. As a team I think we excel at elevating each other. It has also been a huge bonus to have a leadership presence from seniors like Lauren O’Donnell and Kiera Grein, who have helped set the tone and keep our composure during big games.”
Coach Painter shares Thomas’s admiration for the women’s soccer team. “They are an incredible group to work with with many sources of inspiration. While the team is quite young, we have some seniors who have been crucial on and off the field. Lauren O’Donnell, Kiera Grein, Melanie Walters and Anna Larkin have all been with the program for five years. They have been exceptional this season with their own performances, and in working to transform a group of strangers into a strong and cohesive team that is playing in an OUA gold medal game on Friday night.”
Sky’s the limit
When not playing, Thomas enjoys spending time outdoors, biking, roller blading, and spending time with family and friends.
Thomas feels excited about the challenges ahead. “We are coming off a big win from Saturday [against Nipissing] and hoping to push that momentum forward. I think we need to focus on what we do well and execute on Friday. We are all also super excited to be attending nationals. Obviously, it is every team’s goal to make it to [U SPORTS] nationals and it is an unreal feeling to get there my first year.”
The sky’s the limit for Thomas, said Painter. “Avarie is an amazing student-athlete who has had a very good first year. That said, I think we have only seen a portion of what she is capable of. She is a special athlete and person with a bright future.”
The U SPORTS National Women’s Soccer Championship is being held Nov. 18 to 21 in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Women’s basketball began their season on Nov. 5 at home, and the season runs until March. The Women’s Basketball U SPORTS National Championships are scheduled to be held March 10 to13, 2022, in Kingston, Ont.
Kickoff against the Queen’s Gaels is set for 7pm, Friday Nov. 12, at Western Alumni Stadium. Tickets are free but must be ordered online in advance.