Back when Mary Thomson was a Grade 9 student at Crocus Plains high school, she was approached by Brandon University Bobcats women’s volleyball head coach Lee Carter who told her time and time again that she’s a Bobcat.
Now in her first year with Carter’s squad, Thomson admits she knew she was a Bobcat long before that. Her father, Don, and mother, Jennifer, both played basketball for Brandon University in the 1980s and Don went on to coach the BU women’s basketball team in the 1990s. As a result of Don’s job, the future Bobcat setter found herself at the old gymnasium a lot while she was growing up.
When it came time to choose which school to commit to, Thomson knew she had to stay in Brandon. While some believe the 5-foot-10 setter is following in her parents’ footsteps by joining the Bobcats, that’s not the way she views it.
"It’s a fresh start, and it was for them," she said. "My mom came from Nova Scotia and it was a whole new experience for her to come to Brandon and play on the court. (Now they look at the new Healthy Living Centre and) they say ‘Where was all this when they came out here?’"
So far, Thomson is loving her time with the Bobcats. She’s appeared in five of the team’s first six matches —helping Brandon post a 4-2 record in Canada West conference play — and has 28 assists, four aces, a .958 serving percentage and four blocks in her spot duty.
The 18-year-old Crocus Plains graduate didn’t expect a lot of playing time this season, since she’s behind fourth-year starting setter Kellie Baker on the depth chart, but she’s feeling more comfortable on the court with every bit of experience she gets. She also feels like she’s becoming a better setter because of the tips she’s been receiving from Baker.
"Kellie has made it so easy for me. She pushes me to be the setter I can be and she knows I have potential to be a good setter and she really sees that in me," said Thomson, who played left side for the provincial AAAA high school silver-medallist Plainsmen last season.
"Kellie is someone I look up to in an older sister role and also an older setter role. … I was looking forward to the different techniques, ways and strategies that she has when she’s playing and just learn a lot from her. I haven’t had that yet … someone to learn from as a setter, because I’ve been back and forth in positions my whole career. This is really exciting."
Carter has taken notice of how much Thomson has improved since joining the team this fall. He pointed out that she’s getting sets to the outside hitters a lot quicker and is quite athletic. However, it’s her attitude that he loves the most.
"Nobody’s ever questioned Mary’s character," he said. "She’s grown up watching her mom and dad play and coach sports. She understands what competing means and that’s Mary’s strengths."
Thomson is expected to be Baker’s replacement after she exhausts her CIS eligibility, and Carter has high hopes for her. Thomson shares in those high expectations, but she knows she has a lot of work ahead of her.
Thomson also knows that it will take some time before she cracks the Bobcats starting lineup, so this year she’s just focusing on improving her abilities and learning as much as she can.
"For right now, it’s just for every day to get better and see what I can do," she said. "I surprise myself every day in practice with a different set or a different dig and knowing that every day these girls are going to push me to be the volleyball player that I want to be and that they know I can be."