Friday, January 05, 2001

Freshman surprise spark for MND

Thomas helping Cougars get back on track

By Dave Schutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mel Thomas
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        The outlook for the Mount Notre Dame girls basketball team was bleak.

        Five starters from last season's 16-8 team graduated and only four players with limited varsity playing time returned.

        So second-year coach Lisa Hayden, a former player at Miami (1995 graduate), had limited expectations in the Girls Greater Cincinnati League.

        This outlook quickly changed with the emergence of Mel Thomas, a 5-foot-8 freshman shooting guard, who is averaging 20 points and seven rebounds per game this season.

        Another freshman, Ali Rohlfs, a 5-foot-9 forward and Thomas' teammate at Sacred Heart Grade School, has earned a starting spot and is the Cougars' second leading scorer.

        “I heard a lot of talk about Mel and the rumor she may be attending Mount Notre Dame,” Hayden said. “I watched her during summer open gyms and knew she was an outstanding player. But until she showed up the first day of school, I wasn't counting on her.”

        Thomas, the Cougars' leading scorer, was the topic of conversation at the eight-team Mason Holiday Classic after scoring a tournament record 39 points while pulling down 12 rebounds in a victory over Canton McKinley in the fifth-place consolation game.

        “Mel loves the game and has a basketball in her hands every minute,” Hayden said. “She's knows what to do in game situations. She knows how to draw a foul, or when to take on a player.”

        Against Cleveland East Tech, Thomas came through when the game was on the line. She sank two free throws to send the game into overtime and added six points in the extra session.

        “She's not just a scorer but a complete player,” Hayden said. “Mel sees the entire floor, passes well and is very unselfish. She's not afraid to go inside and makes everybody, including the coach, look good.”

        Thomas' picture-perfect shooting form was noticed at the Mason Tournament and had Toledo Central Catholic coach Steve Pfahler searching for superlatives.

        Jeff Thomas, Mel's father, explained how his daughter got involved in basketball.

        “We started playing in the back yard when Mel was four-years old,” Jeff said. “I made an eight-foot hoop so she could get the ball up to the basket.”

        After Thomas turned 10-years old, she joined Classicway's 10-and-under AAU team while continuing to play for St. Savior's grade school team.

        During her spare time, Thomas , who wears a determined expression during games, spends countless hours shooting at the Blue Ash YMCA, while often playing with and against the boys.

        The past two years, Thomas attended Sacred Heart Grade School and played for the CYO city championship eighth-grade team that went undefeated.

        A straight-A student in grade school and at Mount Notre Dame, Thomas didn't know what to expect when trying out for the freshman team at MND in October.

        “There were 25 girls who tried out for the freshman team,” she said. “After the third day, the coaches told us which team we would be playing for during the season.”

        Thomas and Rohlfs were elevated to the varsity and have solidified a Cougars team that has seniors Liz Braun, Liz Engel, Sarah Barber and Alison Nahrup.

        Hayden expects the Cougars' (5-5) experience in a close loss to Cleveland East Tech to be the step toward improving their record.

        “We lost to Cleveland East Tech (Mason Tournament champion) by three points,” Hayden said. “The five games we've lost were by a total of 15 points.”

        If the Cougars start winning close games, they could be a team to watch the rest of the season and especially when the sectional tournament begins in February.

Girls basketball coverage
Boys basketball coverage

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