Kalia Thao moved to Warwick from Oklahoma last year, during her junior year, but showed up a little too late to try out for the volleyball team.
When fall rolled around the following school year, Thao took the court for the first time and instantly made her presence felt. She quickly became Pilgrim’s top all-around player, leading the Pats to a resurgent 10-8 season and a playoff berth.
“As my first year coaching here, to have her come out as a senior was a complete joy,” said Pilgrim head coach Kelly Harrington. “She came out right away with strong skills.”
Thao has a family background with the game of volleyball, and she had played during her first two years of high school in Oklahoma. Coming into the Pilgrim program, she instantly became a force defensively and contributed with her outside hitting.
“Defense is something I really do focus on,” Thao said. “Coming out, being one of the shorter girls, I kind of had to step up with my defense.”
Harrington did all she could to maximize her one year with Thao on the court.
“She was by far the most skilled all-around player that we had,” Harrington said. “We tried to arrange our defense so she would take the majority of the court. She’s got a great understanding of the game.”
Pilgrim ended up earning a No. 5 seed for the Division II playoffs and nearly upset fourth-seeded Central Falls, falling in five games. It was an impressive performance for the Pats, who had gone 4-14 the year before, and Thao was one of the biggest reasons why.
“She was a fantastic outside hitter, our go-to player, always out on the court, playing with a great attitude, giving 100 percent effort all the time,” Harrington said. “She kept us competitive in all of our matches.”
Even if it was just for one season, it was still well worth it. Thao will head back to Oklahoma this coming school year, where she’ll attend Tulsa Community College.