Nikiski's Hannah Thompson celebrates a point during a game earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nikiski girls basketball coach Ward Romans was at a football game this year when he and an opposing coach started talking hoops.
The opposing coach told Romans he would have quite a challenge this season replacing all the seniors Nikiski lost from its Class 3A state champion last year, like Hannah Thompson.
Romans then took great glee in telling the coach that Thompson is a senior this year and will once again suit up for the Bulldogs.
“It seems like she’s been here six years,” Romans said.
There are a lot of great players that come and go at the high school and college levels, where eligibility is limited to four years, but every once in awhile a player comes in so mature and talented that the player seems to be around forever, especially to the opposition. Thompson is such a player.
As a freshman, Thompson immediately made an impact on Nikiski’s volleyball team. Current Nikiski coach Bruce King said he and former Nikiski varsity coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen agreed that Thompson was the most outstanding freshman ever at Nikiski.
“She came in with passing skills and great court awareness,” King said. “She already had a swing. She had all the mechanics of a swing that’s gotten stronger and stronger over the years.”
Thompson helped the Bulldogs to third in the Southcentral Conference and sixth in the state, earning state all-tournament honors in the process.
In basketball, Thompson then made the varsity and played significant minutes.
“There’s probably only three or four players that have seen a lot of minutes as freshman in high school (at Nikiski),” Romans said.
The Bulldogs took second at the Southcentral Conference tournament that year and tied for seventh at the state tournament.
“When she was a freshman, she was intensely focused on being the best she could be,” Romans said. “That’s not a normal characteristic in a player that young. She’s always been more mature than her years.”
Thompson grew up in a sports family. Her parents, Sharon and Bill, played sports in college and stayed active after college by playing and coaching sports.
“We’ve always been sports-minded,” Bill said. “We’re involved either coaching or playing city league volleyball or basketball.”
When Sharon and Bill went on the court, Hannah was sure to follow.
“She was always on the court wanting to play,” Sharon said. “She’d watch us playing and want to learn how to do certain things, so we’d show her, ‘You hold your hands like this.’”
Hannah said her parents didn’t only teach her techniques. They also taught her how to compete.
“I played with my parents and they didn’t take it easy on me,” Thompson said. “They beat up on me pretty good. They ground it into me to play hard.”
Thus, by the time Thompson got on the radar of King in sixth grade and Romans in seventh grade, she stood out.
“She was already developing pretty good basic skills,” King said. “You could tell she was gong to achieve in the sport.”
But Thompson was far from being a finished product. When Thompson was young, her mom said about 6, she watched a home video of her parents playing volleyball and decided she wanted to play the sport in college.
“It’s always been my goal to play at the highest level possible,” Thompson said.
Thompson had plenty of laurels to rest on after her freshman year, but she kept attending camps, Outside tournaments, club volleyball games and anything else to get better.
“She loves the game,” King said. “Anytime there is a place to play, she is there.”
As a sophomore, the Bulldogs finished fourth at state and won the Southcentral Conference, with Thompson making the state all-tournament team and earning Southcentral Conference player of the year honors.
As a junior, the Bulldogs were third in state and second at the conference tournament and Thompson again made the state all-tournament team.
This year, the Bulldogs are the No. 1 seed heading into the conference tournament behind the well-rounded play of Thompson.
“I think everybody sees the obvious great swing, but what not everyone sees is the outstanding passer and floor defender,” King said. “She just runs the show out on the floor.
“She’s so talented mechanically, I really don’t know how to put it into words.”
King also said Thompson has continued to add different types of serves to her game to become even more dangerous.
Thompson’s one weakness when it comes to volleyball is her height. In the right pair of shoes, she’s 5-foot-9, which is generally considered too short to be a hitter at the Division I level.
Thompson is hoping all the work she has done on her defense and passing will allow her to become a Division I setter or libero. She had a positive recruiting visit to Division I Eastern Washington but as of yet does not have a scholarship offer.
Thompson played more basketball than volleyball as a child, but volleyball ended up being her top sport.
“I just liked it more, I don’t know why,” Thompson said. “I had a passion for volleyball more than basketball.”
That hasn’t kept her from success in basketball. As a sophomore, she helped Nikiski to a conference title and third-place finish in state. She made the state all-tournament team and also was voted second team all-state by the state’s media.
She averaged 10.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and also was second on the team in assists and first in free-throw, field-goal and 3-point percentage. She also set a school record by taking seven charges in a season.
As a junior, Thompson helped Nikiski to conference and state titles. She made the state all-tournament team and was voted first team all-state. In the state title game, she held fellow first-teamer Jesstinna “Piggy” Pili of Barrow to nine points while scoring 16 herself.
Thompson led the team in assists and was second in rebounds and third in points. She also always drew the other team’s toughest post player.
“Sometimes, she’s playing somebody 5 or 6 inches taller than she is,” Romans said. “She’s a special kid. She’s does what’s needed no matter what’s asked.
“She’s as mentally tough of a player as I’ve ever coached.”
Thompson, who is in student government and National Honors Society at Nikiski, also sets high goals in the classroom. She has a cumulative grade-point average of 3.67 and would like to pursue a physical therapy and nursing degree.
“Every coach should get an athlete like Hannah once in their career,” King said. “She’s a completely outstanding athlete and she is so coachable.”
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