Many in the UConn Athletics community know Erika Thomas as the 6’3’’ right-side hitter who played volleyball in Storrs throughout her four-year college career.
What they may not know is that after she graduated from the University last May, Thomas went on to graduate school at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. where she played basketball as a fifth-year athlete.
Playing volleyball in Connecticut was very different from playing basketball in Arizona, for a number of reasons. Thomas says the biggest changes came from the mental aspect of switching sports and schools.
Comparing the two schools, she says, “Storrs is UConn … UConn is Storrs. The city and school are very much one and the same. However, with GCU it was different. GCU is in Phoenix, but that’s not the only thing the city has to offer. It’s weird, at first, coming to GCU and realizing people actually do more than just go to school and hang out on campus!”
Thomas says the transition to basketball was the most difficult part of her switch. She had not played basketball since earning a varsity letter at The First Academy, prior to attending UConn.
“Getting my basketball IQ back was challenging, especially when I was competing against girls who had been playing DI basketball for multiple years and were obviously going to be smarter than me when it comes to the sport,” she says. “However, I knew that I had an advantage physically. Therefore, I would use my athleticism and height to compensate for my lack of experience.”
Thomas’s height and athletic ability definitely became a great asset to the team. She says one of her favorite games this season was when she almost set the school record for most rebounds in a game.
At UConn, Thomas was a two-time team captain in volleyball and AAC All-Second Team member in her senior year; at Grand Canyon, she averaged 4.5 rebounds per game and held a team-high field goal percentage of 54.5 percent in 11 games.
The Antelopes, who joined the NCAA Division I in 2013, went 15-12 this past season in the Western Athletic Conference, finishing the year by winning three of their last five games with Thomas coming off the bench.
Along with the opportunity to live on the other side of the country and play an entirely different sport, Thomas also had the unusual experience of having older sister Krystal Thomas, who now plays for the Washington Mystics, as her assistant coach.
“Having my sister as my coach was one of the coolest experiences I will ever get to have,” says Erika. “She knew and understood me in ways that other coaches did not. She knew when and how to push me; but at the end of the day I always had my sister when that final whistle blew.”
The Antelopes finished their season a few weeks ago, and Thomas has officially ended her long and successful career as a two-sport Division-I athlete.
Now she plans to take some time for herself. “Sports have always determined where I go in my life, and for once that does not have to be the case,” she says. “I would love to play professional volleyball in the future, but for the next few months I am going to focus on finishing my master’s and enjoying my summer.”
Thomas will stay for a while in Phoenix, at least until she has completed her master’s degree in business administration.