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49ers’ soccer star Martha Thomas sets goal: No sophomore slump

Charlotte 49ers sophomore forward Martha Thomas was Conference USA Freshman of the Year last season.
Charlotte 49ers sophomore forward Martha Thomas was Conference USA Freshman of the Year last season. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Martha Thomas says she’s found a simple solution to the sophomore slump.

“I’m simply going to avoid it,” says Thomas, a forward who hopes to follow up on her spectacular freshman season with the Charlotte 49ers’ women’s soccer team.

Actually, Thomas admits with a laugh, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

“You can’t take anything for granted, and you can’t stop working,” said Thomas, the only sophomore on the preseason All-Conference USA women’s soccer team. “I plan to keep pushing myself to improve.”

Charlotte starts its season at home Sunday afternoon against Coastal Carolina.

Thomas was among four 49ers’ players who earned all-conference honors last season, but she is the only returnee. She is among the more experienced members for Charlotte, which is picked to finish third, behind Rice and North Texas, in the conference this season.

“It’s exciting how young this team is,” says Thomas, the 2014 C-USA Freshman of the Year. “The younger players are very good, and I feel as if we have more depth than last season. We’re all pushing each other to improve.

Coach John Cullen says Thomas is key to the 49ers’ hopes this season, but he is trying to give the freshmen as much playing time as possible. In a 4-3 exhibition victory Saturday against Georgia State, Cullen had four or five freshmen playing at some points.

“At times, it got a bit chaotic,” Cullen said. “You can tell we had some freshmen out there. But we want them to get experience to get them used to working with Martha and the other returnees.”

By all measures, Thomas, who was born and spent her early childhood in Dorset, England, before moving to south Florida, had a stellar freshman season. She scored 11 goals, including five game winners. She took 59 shots, second-highest on the team. Thomas was ranked 17th by one rating service among the nation’s top 100 freshman players.

“I know that because of last season, there are a lot of expectations for this year,” she says. “There’s some pressure. But I’m using that to make me improve.”

Thomas said she thinks the 49ers are capable of carrying the season beyond the conference tournament in early November.

“We have the ability – and the expectation – of going a long ways this season,” she says. “It’s exciting, thinking of what we can do.”

Games to watch in the Carolinas

Sept. 7 - South Carolina at Charlotte: The 49ers take a shot at one of the SEC’s powerhouses.

Sept. 27 - Duke at Virginia: The Blue Devils have the talent to join the ACC’s elite.

Oct. 8 - Davidson at Dayton: The Wildcats test the Alantic 10 preseason favorite.

Oct. 11 - North Carolina at Florida State: Tar Heels get a shot at the nation’s No. 1 team.

Oct. 22 - South Carolina at Florida: First place in the SEC could be at stake.

Oct. 24 - Lenoir-Rhyne at Wingate: The area’s top Division II schools clash.

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