For former Liberty Christian star softball player Alayna Thomas, softball at the collegiate level was not originally a part of her plan.
Instead, she was to play her senior season at Liberty, and then, head to Indiana Wesleyan University to focus on her academics and complete a degree in nursing. Nursing is one of the most challenging fields of study at the undergraduate level, requiring a rigorous course load and many hours of study.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic altered her best laid plans.
Her senior season was cancelled, robbing her of an anticipated stellar ending to an incredible career. All too suddenly, she, and many other senior athletes like her, had to come to grips with the fact that their final year of high school competition was over before it really began.
At first, her academics-only plan remained unchanged, but over the summer, she felt the urge to play softball once again.
“Whenever we lost our season to [the coronavirus] completely, it was just like, ‘Wow, it’s possible that I may never play another softball game again,’” Thomas recalled. “I did get closure, but at the same time, I felt like I wasn’t done.”
After talking with her high school softball coach, Dan Russell, and other trusted adults, including her father and her travel softball coach, Thomas announced her intention to walk onto one of the top teams in the Crossroads League – the Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats.
“I feel like I have a pretty good shot,” Thomas said. “Of course, you never know what’s going to happen, but I am thrilled that I have this opportunity, and if it works out in the end, I will be so grateful.”
Thomas graduated from Liberty this past spring as one of the most talented players to ever grace the softball diamond for the Lions. In her three seasons with the team, Liberty Christian went 38-25, and Thomas achieved star-status at multiple positions, including shortstop, third base, and pitcher, where she set the school record for most wins in a single career.
“Playing at Liberty was such a huge blessing to me,” Thomas said. “It was, honestly, some of the most fun games of my life. So many good memories have come from that, and I was so blessed to be able to play with those girls. Not being able to play this last year because of COVID was heartbreaking for all of us, especially us seniors, but the three years I did have with them was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“She was very humble,” Russell said of his former star. “She knew she was our best player but handled it with a lot of humility than a lot of kids would have. She was a tremendous baserunner, and a great kid. She treated her teammates well…and they looked up to her. She’s just a really good kid.”
While Thomas could not play softball last spring, she was able to participate in travel softball over the summer and played in an exhibition doubleheader against city rival Anderson. During her first week of competition in June, Thomas stated that she put together some stellar performances, and it was at that moment that she knew that she was not done playing softball just yet.
A short time later, Russell made contact with IWU Head Coach, Steve Babinski, who encouraged Thomas to attend their softball camp in early August.
Thomas did so, using the time to get to know both the coaching staff and her potential teammates.
It did not take long for the IWU softball program to leave an impression.
“I was just blown away,” Thomas said. “I loved Coach Babinski. Having conversations with him, whether it was about our faith, softball itself, or how academics worked at IWU, he’s just a really genuine person, and I appreciated that. That was what sold me on it.”
Over the next several weeks, Babinski and Thomas have agreed to a trial run, giving Thomas the chance to see if her busy school schedule will allow her to play softball for IWU on a full-time basis. Thomas will work out and meet with the team in an attempt to fully immerse herself into the program.
However, it seems that her mind is made up. She is ready to play for the Wildcats and ready to serve in any team role.
“I’m a utility player. I’ve got experience playing almost every position, including pitching,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of potential no matter where you put me on the field. I can fill multiple roles, and anywhere Coach Babs would need me, I would be willing to go there and I’d be open minded about it.”
“They are getting a player that I’m sure, defensively, can play every position,” Russell concluded. “She’s a tremendous, all-around player with surprising power for her size. They are getting a really good player. If they give her a shot, she can help that program.”