Old Mill's Kiara Thomas has regained her skills and her confidence after an injury forced her to sit out most of her junior season

Inner strength


January 17, 2007|By Alejandro Danois | Alejandro Danois,Special to the Sun

Old Mill center Kiara Thomas is savoring every moment of her senior season. She knows better than anyone how quickly it can be taken away.

Coming off a strong sophomore campaign, Thomas was expecting big things for her junior year, but a knee injury forced her to miss nearly the entire season.

Now, after having endured the frustration of not being able to play, as well as battling a loss of confidence upon her return, Thomas, 5 feet 10, again is playing at a high level for the Patriots.

"You hate to see someone who loves the game so much go through something like that," Old Mill coach Craig White said. "Kiara is a leader who is driven to succeed - intense but very composed. She was the team captain and it was hard for her to watch [last season], especially our three losses to Arundel, who beat us up pretty good on the inside."

Thomas has been a key contributor for the Patriots since she was a freshman. After one day of running through conditioning, agility, shooting and layup drills with her fellow ninth-graders during tryouts, she was directed toward the varsity tryout sessions, eventually earning a roster spot.

Thomas scored 15 points against North County in her freshman debut, and finished as the Patriots' leading rebounder and third-leading scorer for the 13-11 team that season.

As a sophomore, she was named a team captain. The Patriots improved to 14-9 as Thomas averaged a near double double, with 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

"I knew my junior year was going to be big," said Thomas, who practiced relentlessly in anticipation of her teams' run at a county championship.

But nagging discomfort in her left knee, which she'd played through for two years, proved problematic during that summer's Amateur Athletic Union season. By October, the pain forced Thomas to the doctor.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed a torn meniscus and loose anterior cruciate ligament. A month after surgery she was able to do away with crutches, but the cumbersome soft cast, stretching from her mid-thigh down to her ankles, remained.

"I thought I'd do the physical therapy and be back early in the season," Thomas said. "But I couldn't even bend my leg, and it was hard, emotionally, watching every game."

Thomas returned to play briefly in Old Mill's final game, scoring six points in seven minutes of action in the Patriots' loss to Arundel in the state playoffs.

Although Old Mill finished 20-5, Thomas wondered if her interior presence would have helped the team do even better.

Determined to recapture her game, Thomas began playing again at the end of April and was back on the court for the summer AAU season. But the skills she once executed easily proved difficult. She missed layups and easy shots. As doubt crept through her consciousness, she began to wonder if she'd ever be the same player.

"The mental block was the worst part," Thomas said. "I was playing hard, but I couldn't jump and wasn't as quick. I felt like I couldn't do anything."

She cried on occasion, sometimes bursting into tears on the court. She even suggested that White not put her back into games.

After a subpar performance in the Patriots' win over St. Mary's, Thomas was consoled by friend and senior guard Anisha Queen.

Queen, who has played with Thomas since the eighth grade and also made Old Mill's varsity as a freshman, overcame her own knee injury that had forced her to miss her entire ninth-grade season.

"I told her to keep her head up because I'd experienced the same thing," Queen said. "You're nervous and you don't want to risk being injured again, but I stressed that everyone had faith in her."

Thomas thought she was letting her teammates down, but Queen assured her that she wasn't.

"Anisha told me that everything was going to be OK," Thomas said. "She said to keep working hard and my skills would come back."

Against North County last month, her teammates constantly fed the ball into the paint, and Thomas responded with 25 points.

She had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Glen Burnie on Jan. 5, and followed with another double double (20 points, 13 rebounds) against Severna Park.

Although she wears a brace to protect and support her knee, Thomas, who carries a 3.5 grade point average, is over the emotional hurdles that slowed her comeback. She's running the floor with quickness, blocking shots that ignite the fast break and using her hands to corral passes before turning toward the basket with her effective hook shot.

"She's quiet and doesn't get emotional, but you can see the intensity. Kiara is as true a center as I've had in 10 years, and even though she's undersized, she's very effective," White said.

"She's back to full health, controlling the inside, enjoying every moment of this season, and has yet to play her best game."

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