As a home-school student, Sarah Thomsen initially struggled to find a place to play high school basketball.As an eighth-grader, she played at Arborbrook Christian, and in ninth grade she played at Grace Academy, both in Matthews; but after her ninth-grade season she wanted a change. Last year, as a sophomore, she joined the team at Carmel Christian, which was allowing home-school players in the school’s first varsity season. Thomsen enjoyed the season so much that she enrolled in the school this year to be able to continue playing at Carmel Christian as it moved into the Southern Piedmont Athletic Association and the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. Those leagues do not allow home-schooled players. “I think definitely my parents saw, and I did too, that this was a good place for me to be, so I definitely wanted to stay here,” Thomsen, 17, said. Thomsen, a 5-foot-6 point guard, is flourishing in her second season at Carmel (8-6 through Jan. 30). The junior is averaging a team-high 21.3 points per game, the sixth-best scoring average for girls’ basketball in the Observer area. Head coach Jason Blanton, who has coached the varsity both years, knew he had a talented player at the first practice. “She was clearly dominant,” he said. “There was nobody on the floor that could touch her. … “She didn’t just fall out of bed and be good at basketball. She’s worked really hard at it. She’s driven … as much or more than any player I’ve coached, boy or girl.” Thomsen started playing at age 9. She said her father, Mark, was the driving force at helping her get better. He helped her with workouts, pushing her to get better outside regular practices. Thomsen has played AAU basketball the past four years, which kept her motivated when she struggled to find a school team that fit. Blanton said one of Thomsen’s strengths is ball handling. “On this level, ball handling is everything, you know, and she is an exceptional ball handler, not just a good ball handler,” he said. “So most of the time we don’t wilt under a lot of pressure because we know that we can get the ball in her hands.” Thomsen said she enjoys playing point guard. She said the team has gotten closer in the two years she’s been on it, and she’s more comfortable relying on other players to score. Freshman Cassandra Shaw is averaging 13.3 points per game, and senior Rebecca Barker, a co-captain with Thomsen, is averaging 7.6 points per game. “I have the opportunity to distribute to everyone,” Thomsen said. “The team’s also helped me with the scoring. And we’ve become closer, so I think we feel more trust with each other.” Thomsen is still the team’s main scoring threat. She’s a solid outside shooter but also has the ability to drive. She scored a season-high 33 points in a 57-31 win against Pine Lake Prep on Dec. 13 and hasn’t scored fewer than 16 points in a game all season. Blanton said he would prefer to see her play more off the ball in the future. Thomsen has played mostly shooting guard for her AAU teams. “If we had a better option to play the point guard … I would like to move her off the ball some during games and let her spot up, because she’s really our best spot-up shooter, particularly from three-point” range, Blanton said. Blanton said he thinks Thomsen has the potential to play college basketball. Thomsen said she’d be interested in playing at a smaller school, probably Christian-based. “I think somebody’s going to come and see what she brings to the table,” Blanton said. “And there’s been a couple coaches that have come to see us play. … She’s not gone unnoticed.” Thomsen and Blanton feel good about how the team has done this year, especially for a second-year varsity program. Thomsen wasn’t the only home-schooled player who enrolled this season. Five players from last year’s team enrolled at Carmel Christian this year as the program moved into the NCISAA. “I think later in the season last year we started to all get along really well and we started, like, hanging out with each other even though we all came from different places,” Thomsen said. “And this year we’ve definitely bonded a lot.” Blanton, also senior pastor at Grace Crossing, was an assistant boys’ basketball coach at Hickory Ridge before coming to Carmel Christian, and was the boys’ head coach at a small Christian school in eastern North Carolina before that. He says the conference is a good fit for this young program. The Cougars are 3-3 in the Southern Piedmont, which includes Gaston Day, Hickory Christian, Statesville Christian, Victory Christian and United Faith. “We’re in a league that fits us pretty well right now, actually. We’re more competitive than a normal first- or second-year school,” Blanton said. “To tell you the truth, we’re a little bit better than our record. We’ve really been slumping a little bit lately, but what we’re capable of is even better than what we’ve shown so far.” Thomsen and Blanton look forward to seeing how the team can do the rest of the regular season and into the conference and state tournaments. “I think that if we play our best basketball that we’re capable of winning our (conference) tournament,” Blanton said. “And then, who knows?”How far the team goes will rely heavily on Thomsen.“There’s no question that from a basketball standpoint the girls look at her as the leader,” Blanton said. “When we’re in duress, we know where the ball’s going to go.”
Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2014
Guard finds home on Carmel Christian girls’ basketball team
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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