UK Volleyball's Thomasson Prepared to Lead in 2016

This is the sixth and final feature story in a series previewing the 2016 Kentucky Volleyball team.

Anni Thomasson has enjoyed a highly-decorated volleyball career at the University of Kentucky. Now, she's ready to be the senior leader for the 2016 Wildcats. 

Thomasson was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2013, and to the All-SEC Team in 2014. She’s been named to the AVCA All-Region Team, as well as being an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American.

The 6-0 senior from Newark, Ohio, is also on pace to become just the third Kentucky player in the 25-point rally scoring era to reach 1,000 career kills. In addition, she should also get her 1,000th dig this season, which would make her the fifth UK player to accomplish that feat in the 25-point rally scoring era. If she reaches 1,000 in both categories, she would join Whitney Billings as the only UK players to reach both milestones since 25-point rally scoring was instituted in 2008. 

While the awards, records and honors are nice, Thomasson is not driven by individual goals. When asked about her personal goals for the upcoming 2016 season, she immediately mentioned the team.

“I just really want to win the SEC this season and go deep into the (NCAA) tournament,” she said. “The SEC is always the number one goal, but going deep in the tournament is also a big goal. We can’t seem to get over the first and second round, so for my senior season, I’d love to get past that.”

While Thomasson has been a starter from the very beginning of her UK career, she hasn’t always been a leader on the team. But UK coach Craig Skinner has seen Thomasson develop a number of leadership qualities.

“She led by example her first couple of years, but the last year and a half, she has come out of her shell,” Skinner said. “I ask the team a lot of questions, and I’ve had to ask her to not answer recently, so other people can speak. It’s been refreshing to see her evolution as far as verbally leading and thinking through what’s important for the team.”

Now that she’s a senior, Thomasson knows she must take on a larger leadership role.

“It’s always different knowing you’re the oldest, you’ve been there the longest, you have the most experience,” Thomasson said. “But at the same time, I’m doing what I always do. But this time, it’s about getting the underclassmen on board with the same ideas and philosophies on what Kentucky volleyball is all about.”

Junior libero Ashley Dusek knows that Thomasson has the qualities of a great leader.

“She brings a fire and she makes sure no one is slacking off,” Dusek said. “She makes sure we’re all in sync. She’s very vocal and she’s an awesome leader.”

In addition to setting a good example for her teammates, Thomasson also leads with her play on the court. Her versatility allows Thomasson to help the team in many ways, something Skinner has seen for three years.

“She’s so talented at every skill, and is also such a great competitor that she makes everybody around her better,” Skinner said of his senior. “When she’s on the floor, she makes us better. She’s never stopped trying to improve as an athlete.”

In the 25-point rally scoring era, Thomasson ranks in Kentucky’s Top 10 in career sets played (317), kills (806), assists (95), aces (79), digs (834) and points (950.5), proving just how many things she does well.

Junior Kaz Brown realizes how special Thomasson is.

“Anni is definitely one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with in any sport,” Brown said. “She can step on the court and play any position we need her to, and that’s amazing. She’s so versatile. Her competitive nature and her passion for the game is contagious. I think it’s something we all look up to and latch on to.”

As for how she would like her senior season to play out, Thomasson wants to see the team improve on last year’s tough ending.

“Honestly, we didn’t finish the way we wanted last year,” she said. “Losing in the first round is not what Kentucky volleyball is all about. So we have some unfinished business to attend to this year. We don’t dwell on it and we don’t let it affect the way we play, but we have that in the back of head to use as a little bit of motivation.”

Thomasson will use that motivation to make herself, and her team, even better.