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College softball: Thomas leaves her mark at UMD

Hermantown product will exit as Bulldogs’ all-time leader in home runs.

Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth’s Jordyn Thomas of Hermantown catches a throw to first base during a doubleheader against Minnesota-Crookston on April 11.
Minnesota Duluth first baseman Jordyn Thomas gets the team pumped in a huddle during a March 26, 2019 game against St. Cloud State at Malosky Stadium.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Most athletes describe their college careers going by in a blur, but with Minnesota Duluth softball player Jordyn Thomas, it’s the other way around.

It seems like Thomas has been at UMD forever.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” Thomas said, laughing. “It’s been a long ride. There’s been a lot of twists and turns, but I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Thomas, 22, is a 2017 Hermantown High School graduate.

Before the 2020-21 school year, Thomas made the decision to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID canceling her 2020 softball season.

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“It was hard to decide,” Thomas said. “I went back and forth a lot with it, talking with my family and figuring out what was going to be my story, but ultimately, I wanted to play more softball. I only have so many years playing the game that I love, so if I’m able to, why not stay another year?”

And what a year it’s been.

Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth first baseman Jordyn Thomas makes a catch for an out during a March 26 game against St. Cloud State at Malosky Stadium.
Minnesota Duluth first baseman Jordyn Thomas makes a catch for an out during a March 26, 2019 game against St. Cloud State at Malosky Stadium.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

Thomas became UMD’s all-time home runs leader earlier this season and now has 48 for her career. Among other records, her career slugging percentage of .654 is on pace to top the .638 of Angie Macioce (1995-98), but home runs … that one is tough to top.

The previous home run record holder, Jordan Rice (2012-15), sent her a video congratulating her.

“Just hearing from an alum, after you beat their record, and how proud they are of you, was a really amazing experience,” Thomas said. “That was kind of the big one, where I knew I was close. That was kind of a goal of mine. But with this fifth year, stats aside, just have fun with my teammates and keep playing the game that I love, and enjoy doing it. Whatever else comes with that will just be icing on the cake.”

Thomas leads UMD (23-10 overall, 8-4 NSIC) this season with a .336 batting average and six home runs. She is tied for the team lead with six doubles and is second with 25 RBIs.

If Thomas had a fault, according to first-year UMD coach Lynn Anderson, it’s that she sometimes puts too much pressure on herself.

“For her, she just needs to relax in that moment and keep it simple,” Anderson said. “If she can do that, she’ll put the ball in play consistently really well.”

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Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth’s Jordyn Thomas of Hermantown catches a throw to first base during a doubleheader against Minnesota-Crookston on April 11.
Minnesota Duluth’s Jordyn Thomas of Hermantown catches a throw to first base during a doubleheader against Minnesota-Crookston on April 11, 2018. Thomas is still a Bulldog in 2022 as a fifth-year senior.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Bulldogs have moved Thomas around the batting order in an effort to help her realize she doesn’t have to carry the offensive load herself.

“Trying to balance between wanting to do my job for the team and wanting to go out there and have fun,” Thomas said. “Softball is a tough game. It’s very mentally challenging and it can get the best of you. When you’re doing great, it’s the best game in the world. When you’re struggling a bit, things can get hard. I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things and get my mindset back on track and just go out there and compete.”

Thomas, who played basketball in addition to softball early in her career at UMD, is from an athletic family with strong ties to the Bulldogs. Father Mike Thomas was an All-American offensive lineman for UMD and mother Kelli (Ritzer) Thomas received NSIC honors four times in basketball and three times in softball and is a member of the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame. Older brother Jared played center for the Bulldogs’ men’s hockey team from 2014-18, uncle Cory Thomas, lettered in baseball and football at UMD and her late grandfather, Ron Thomas, played football from 1954 to 1957 at UMD.

Jordyn Thomas will graduate in May with degrees in biology and psychology. She maintains a 3.86 grade-point average. She plans on attending the University of Minnesota in the fall to continue her career path of being a nurse practitioner.

As it turns out, that decision to come back for one more year, just like Thomas’ career, has been a home run.

“I made that decision, and it’s been great,” Thomas said. “It feels like I’ve been here forever, but I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been able to be a Bulldog. It’s kind of sad that it’s coming to an end here, but I’m proud of my story that I wrote.”

Becca Osborne, left, and Jordyn Thomas stand in Romano Gymnasium
Becca Osborne, left, and Jordyn Thomas pose in the University of Minnesota Duluth's Romano Gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, with a banner representing the NCAA award to UMD Athletics for its efforts in the Green Bandana Project that spreads awareness about mental health.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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