Kaylee Thomas can play just about any role.
Defensive ace, 3-point specialist, and … luge phenom?
Long before joining the women’s basketball team at Merrimack, where she’s now a junior, the North Chelmsford native made a name for herself sliding over ice at high speeds. In middle school, she earned a spot in the USA Luge Junior Olympic Development program.
“The Olympics are this year, and some of my [former] teammates are going,” Thomas said. “That could be me, but I’m so happy I chose basketball.”
The 5-foot-9-inch guard is the ultimate role player for the Warriors.
“She kind of does a little bit of everything,” coach Kelly Morrone said, “and she’s doing all of those things confidently.”
But before hoops, it was luge. Feet-first, supine. Thomas’s first encounter with luge was on a closed-off street next to school during a Slider Search event, a Team USA-sponsored casual tryout of sorts.
She didn’t understand it at the time; her parents just asked her if she wanted to try a new sport. Sledding down a hill near a suburban school, Thomas was a bit confused.
“It was literally sleds on wheels,” she said. “I had no idea what it was.”
Yet a month later, Thomas was invited to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., for an official tryout with USA Luge. Her first time actually doing luge on ice went well enough that she was accepted to program.
After two years in the USA Luge pipeline — including a 10-week training session in Lake Placid during her seventh-grade school year — Thomas faced a tough decision: Is pursuing luge full-time worth it?
“I loved luge and it was so fun, but my heart was still with basketball,” she said.
Thomas’s luge career culminated with a gold medal at the Empire State Games, an event similar to the Bay State Games in Massachusetts.
Known to her team as “Kiki,” Thomas is playing a key role on the court this season. She averaged 5.1 points per game across 26 appearances as a freshman, but scored just 10 points in 14 games last year. After a summer spent working on her game, Thomas is averaging 6.7 points and is tied for the team lead in 3-pointers.
“Her personality is just so easy to get along with,” Morrone said. “She says, “I don’t care where you put me; put me where you need.’ I think because she’s so selfless that’s why she’s playing well. I think that’s going to continue to develop as the season goes.”
“Anything they need me to do, I’ve got it,” Thomas said.
Thomas was a Globe All-Scholastic in basketball at Central Catholic, in addition to playing varsity field hockey and lacrosse. That led to a scholarship at Merrimack, which was transitioning to full-time Division 1 membership at the time.
After going to Merrimack camps for years growing up, Thomas “didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
After her 2019-20 freshman season came the coronavirus pandemic. It happened to be Morrone’s first season as Merrimack’s coach, too. The Warriors didn’t play until Jan. 23, 2021; their first opponent had already played 12 games. After starting out 0-6, Merrimack finished 5-4.
And when it comes to choosing between basketball and luge, Thomas has no regrets.
“I love basketball. It’s always been my favorite sport,” she said. “I guess I just never really knew it until I almost had to give it up.”
Dingle dazzles at Fordham
Asiah Dingle strutted her stuff on and off the floor during her few weeks at Fordham. From dancing with rapper A$AP Ferg on the Rose Hill Gymnasium floor during a pep rally to a career-best performance in the season opener, the Archbishop Williams graduate is quickly fitting into her new surroundings.
“The chemistry on the team is amazing,” said Dingle, a three-time Division 3 state champion and two-time Globe Super Teamer. “It’s just a great group of girls.”
Dingle played her first two collegiate seasons at Kent State before winning an America East title with Stony Brook last year. After her coach left, Dingle transferred again.
The 5-foot-4-inch senior guard dropped a career-high 34 points to go with 6 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists in her Fordham debut, an overtime win over Quinnipiac en route to Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors.
“I’ve been working all summer, so I guess it’s showing now and I hope I can keep that up,” Dingle said. “I feel like I’m just so tenacious that being in a laidback defensive system doesn’t work for me, so I’m glad we ramp it up.”
The women’s NCAA Tournament field is expanding to 68 teams beginning this season. For this season only, the four opening-round games will be held at campus sites. Beginning in 2023, they will be slated for to-be-determined neutral sites.