As a fourth-year starter, Sophie Thompson knows well what a journey it’s been for the Triad girls basketball team to make itself into a postseason contender.
“We won zero games my freshman year,” she said more than once. “Zero.”
But a new coach, Josh Hunt, arrived for her sophomore year and with a commitment to a core of younger players, the Knights saw 0-24 improve to 10-17 and to 19-9 by the time Thompson was a junior.
Now Triad is sitting at 16-2, with losses only to Lebanon and Highland, who have a combined 34 wins of their own.
And Thompson, whose growth as a player has mirrored the rise of her team, is making her run at becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer.
It seems like last year things finally clicked and we really felt like we had a pretty good team. We felt coming into this year we could be better.
Sophie Thompson, Triad senior guard
“Last year was kind of the surprise year because, even as sophomores, we didn’t win as many as we lost,” said Thompson, the Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Week. “It seems like last year things finally clicked and we really felt like we had a pretty good team. We felt coming into this year we could be better.”
Thompson’s 20.1 points-per-game average is second in the metro-east to Civic Memorial’s Allie Troeckler and seventh in the St. Louis metropolitan area. She’s hit 48 shots from 3-point range, which ranks third in the region.
Through 18 games as a senior, she has scored 1,417 points in her career, just 140 shy of Amy (Gire) Sarhage’s school record of 1,557. Sarhage was Thompson’s middle school coach. At her current pace, Thompson would break the record during the last game of the regular season, Feb. 11 at Waterloo.
Over the last week, though, Thompson has been setting a new pace for for herself.
In three games, all of them wins, she scored 73 points — 22 against Waterloo, 25 against Mascoutah and 26 against Carlyle at the Highland Shootout. She started off the current week with another 27 points in a victory over O’Fallon on Monday.
“My 3s are really clicking — I’ve really found my shot,” Thompson said. “I think the key to that, though, is that the teams we’ve played have been guarding me and my teammates are stepping up and scoring. They have to be guarded, too, which means it’s taking some of the pressure off of me.”
1,557 Triad all-time points record held by Amy (Dire) Sarhage
1,417 Thompson’s career point total through Monday’s win over O’Fallon
It has, indeed, been a team effort for the Knights, who have a different leader in nearly every statistical category. They can all score, too, when given the opportunity, Hunt says.
Senior Abby Burroughs is second on the Knights at 11.4 points per game and leads the team with an average of 8.4 rebounds.
“It’s like she’s a magnet for the ball,” Thompson said of Burroughs.
Junior guard Hannah Johnson, in addition to scoring 7.5 points per game, is among area leaders with 74 total assists and 39 steals. Sam Woods contributes 8.3 points and seven rebounds per game and Sam Bassler effectively runs the offense from the point-guard position. Junior Morgan Chigas (two points per game, 2.6 rebounds, 18 assists) provides key minutes off the bench.
Sophie is a dynamic player obviously, but there are some other girls who hover around seven or eight points a game who can easily get to 17 or 18 on any given night.
Josh Hunt, Triad head girls basketball coach
“Sophie’s sophomore year I had the three sophomores, two freshmen and my sixth player off the bench was a freshman,” Hunt said. “Those six girls essentially have been together now for four years.
“Sophie is a dynamic player, obviously, but there are some other girls who hover around seven or eight points a game who can easily get to 17 or 18 on any given night.”
The Knights have seven games left before beginning postseason play as part of a deep Class 3A sub-sectional, which includes Civic Memorial, Centralia, Highland, Mascoutah, Salem and Effingham, among others. Triad will be the site of one of those two regionals.
“We’re a couple of weeks from the seedings, so a lot can still happen,” Hunt said. “These next couple of weeks are really important. As far as these girls have come, though, I have no reason to believe they’ll let up any.”
Thompson has committed to continuing her playing career at Central Methodist University, an NAIA program in Fayette, Mo. For now, though, she says her focus is on two lofty but attainable goals she couldn’t have envisioned as a freshman.
“The goal for myself is to be the highest scorer in girls basketball,” she said. “For the team, we want to win regionals and compete for a sectional. That’s where my mind is focused right now.”