The two-time Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year is playing out of position, and it’s hard for fans and teammates to tell.
LSU freshman Alex Thomas, a three-star recruit during her prep career, scored a remarkable 57 goals over the course of her 25-game senior season at Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans. She led her team to three consecutive state championships behind an impressive 63-0-2 record.
During her first practice with the Tigers (7-3-2, 1-3 Southeastern Conference), Thomas did what she did best in high school — score goals.
The next day, LSU coach Brian Lee did the unthinkable by moving the highly touted recruit from her usual forward position to the back line. Junior forward Summer Clarke said Thomas’ transition to defense surprised everyone on the team.
“She played the position like she’d been playing it her whole life,” Clarke said. “If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that was her natural position.”
Many players, including Clarke, assumed Lee would adjust the team’s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-4-3 to fit Thomas’ offensive skillset. The Tigers were tasked with replacing the former right-back, Tori Sample, who started 39 games in three years. Last year, Lee said it would be tough to fill the right-back position because of Sample’s reliability.
After seeing how comfortable Thomas looked at right-back on her first day at the position, Lee officially made his decision.
“The possibility of her moving to the back line was something way in the back of our mind when we started preseason,” Lee said. “About 10 minutes into her transition, we were fairly convinced that she could do a great job.”
Thomas stepped into an experienced back line anchored by senior defender Alex Arlitt. Arlitt, a fifth-year senior, said Thomas possesses a good amount of technical skill, but her best skills are those that can’t be coached.
“She has really good touch, but I think her best attribute is that she reads the game so well,” Arlitt said.
Thomas became acclimated to college soccer because of her “accountability” mentor on the team. When the players arrived on campus for preseason practice, each underclassmen was paired with an upperclassmen who became their “accountability partner.” Thomas was paired with Clarke, who would check on her to make sure she was eating healthy and staying hydrated.
Thomas might come off as reserved or shy off the field, but when she steps on the pitch, it’s a different story. Thomas is a physical SEC defender who’s not afraid to go in for headers and make challenging tackles.
Arlitt said having Thomas on the back line has improved the team’s defense tremendously.
“I feel really confident when she has the ball,” Arlitt said. “When she doesn’t, I know that she’ll always be in the right spot. I think that’s really important as far as having a cohesive backline — having that communication and chemistry. She’s fitting in really well.”
Many high-ranked recruits might cringe at the idea of switching positions after they performed so well in high school. Lee said Thomas was open to the change and went into it with a positive mindset. Thomas could possibly move back to the forward position later in her LSU career, but it seems she’s found her home at right-back for now.
“I’ve never seen that type of maturity in a freshman since I’ve been here,” Arlitt said. “I’m really impressed with how she’s playing.”