When Annie Thomas was beginning her college search, she set her sights on large schools with sizeable athletic facilities. The John Carroll School lacrosse standout visited the University of Maryland, University of Florida and James Madison, among others.
Loyola was Thomas' last stop on the recruiting trail. The school's new stadium was then under construction, and Thomas and her family had to wear hard hats for their tour of the Ridley Athletic Complex. But Thomas immediately fell in love with the school. Before she left the campus, Thomas told her parents Loyola University was the place for her.
"My dad was very surprised," Thomas said. "I had always talked about how I wanted to be a plane ride away. At Loyola, I'm as far away as I want to be and as close as I want to be [to home]."
Since she became a Greyhound during the 2012 season, Thomas has constructed one of the finest careers in Loyola women's lacrosse history. She became the first Greyhound player, and the 50th in NCAA history, to record more than 100 goals and 100 assists. Thomas established the school's career assist record, and will close her career as one of the top four point-getters in Loyola history.
Thomas earned All-Big East honors during her freshman and sophomore campaigns, and she was an All-Patriot League selection the past two seasons. The Bel Air, Md., native was also named the Patriot League's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015.
After earning third-team All-America recognition from the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association last season, Thomas responded with her best year in 2015. On a team loaded with veteran talent, Thomas stood out as the Greyhounds' most productive player. While helping Loyola to a second straight undefeated Patriot League season, another conference championship and its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth, the senior attacker led the Greyhounds and the Patriot League in scoring and assists.
"I feel like I have the easy job," Thomas said. "I just see an open teammate, and I hit them. Then, they have the hard part of finishing it."
With Thomas serving as the main feeder, the Greyhound offense flourished. But the victories were hard to come by early in the season, when Loyola lost four of its first five games. An overtime win at the University of Virginia March 11 started a 14-game winning streak that culminated with a victory at third-ranked Syracuse during the Greyhounds' regular-season finale May 2.
"Early in the season, people were upset," Thomas said. "It's frustrating when you're working hard in practice every day, and it doesn't pay off. In the locker room, the three team captains talked about changing what we were doing. Coach Jen [Adams] talked about when I was a freshman, when we weren't strong in the first half of the season, but we picked it up and won the conference championship. Going into the UVA game, we were determined to change our season around. We knew going in that we had to win. We had no choice."
Thomas was a standout from the beginning of her freshman season. During her first year at Loyola, she led all Division I freshmen in points. Her 31 assists broke the school's 32-year-old freshman record. But Thomas suffered a setback during her final game, when she tore knee ligaments during an NCAA quarterfinal loss at Maryland May 19, 2012.
Despite the serious knee injury, Thomas didn't miss any time during her sophomore season. She scored at least one point in 18 of her 19 games and tied the school record for single-game assists with seven during a victory at Villanova April 19, 2013. During her junior year, Thomas extended her school-record point streak to 38 games before being blanked by Boston College in an NCAA tournament second-round contest May 11, 2014. Thomas led the Patriot League with 39 assists and finished second in the league with 79 total points.
Thomas and several of her teammates on the most senior-reliant roster in college lacrosse will be leaving Loyola. While Thomas is the Greyhounds' top point-getter, she is immediately followed on the scoring chart by classmates Kara Burke, Hannah Schmitt, Taryn VanThof, Molly Hulseman and Sydney Thomas.
"It's been very rewarding to go through it together," said Thomas, a communications major who plans to go into coaching after graduating from Loyola. "That's why we've had such a good connection on the field. It's been the best experience of my life."