Despite having led his team to a national championship and being recognized as the NAIA National Coach of the Year, the Shorter University head softball coach is staying busy making sure that the program will remain at the top.
Aside from preparing for Shorter’s transition to the NCAA Division II ranks as a member of the Gulf South Conference, Thomas continues to keep an eye out for future players that can continue the Lady Hawks’ championship tradition.
“That’s occupied 90 percent of my time,” said Thomas, who saw his Lady Hawks close out its affiliation with the NAIA by winning the NAIA Softball National Championship in May. Thomas and Shorter’s other head coaches have been diligently finalizing some changes that are required as Shorter adheres to NCAA and GSC rules and regulations. “I really haven’t been able to enjoy what we’ve done.”
Last weekend, Thomas was hoping to get a break from office work by returning to the recruiting trail in Kissimmee, Fla., to attend the Gold Diamond Showcase, a premier event featuring some of the top high school players from around nation.
Instead, the Lady Hawks’ coach saw a lot of Tropical Strom Debby that all but washed out the event.
“It was awful. I feel like I’m mildewed,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Before we went down we narrowed it down to 50 players we had an idea we were interested in, but in the five days we were there, they were only able to play for about four hours and we wound up seeing only about seven players.
“We obviously didn’t get to talk to any of them,” Thomas said, noting that NCAA coaches are not allowed to talk to potential recruits until after they’ve completed play, “but they knew we were there.”
This weekend, however, Thomas will have another opportunity to see prep standouts when he attends a similar showcase in Denver.
“You just can’t leave any stone unturned,” he said. “What is really important is that we get to know the men and women who coach these travel teams. Although they might not have a player we’re interested in right now, they could have one in the future.”
Since joining the program in 2006 as associate head coach and taking over as head coach in 2011, Thomas has made it a point to attend summer showcases, pointing out that several past and current Lady Hawks have competed in such events when they were in high school.
“We’ve had several kids who have played in them come to us,” he said. “I’d say about 50 percent of our kids here now have been a part of this kind of event.”
Without question, those players have played key roles for the Lady Hawks, especially this past season.
After they fell short in their quest to win the Southern States Athletic Conference championship after a loss in the tournament semifinals, the Lady Hawks received an at-large bid to their sixth straight national tournament and made the most of it.
Shorter made a statement by winning its pool, which included defending champion Oregon Tech, then battled its way to the national title game where the Lady Hawks defeated eight-time national champion Oklahoma City to clinch the program’s first crown.
For his efforts in directing the team to the championship, Thomas was named the 2012 NAIA Softball Coach of the Year. In his two years as head coach the Lady Hawks have compiled a 99-26 record.
“The loss in the conference tournament hurt the most,” Thomas said, adding that the heartbreaking defeat wound up being the key motivating factor that spurred the Lady Hawks on to the national championship. “But without that loss we couldn’t have done what we did.”
Having seen his team accomplish the feat through dedication and hard work, Thomas isn’t about to sit back and enjoy the fruits of success.
So far this summer, he knows that the same kind of effort is needed from him to go after the best recruits the Lady Hawks can get and complete the necessary changes the program must make to transition itself to the NCAA level.
“We’ll be fine,” said Thomas. “We just have to change our strategy a little bit.”