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GWINNETT GRADS: GAC's Thomas still a threat

Chris Thomas knew he wouldn’t get the blanket coverage he did in high school — he regularly saw double- and triple-teams as a Greater Atlanta Christian senior in 2009 — but he knew being a prolific goal scorer in college would be much tougher.

Scoring goals at his high school pace, like his 53-goal senior season for GAC’s state championship team, was unrealistic. The defenders at the college level weren’t assigned to him in bulk, but they made up for it in talent.

“They don’t have to do that in college,” Thomas said of being guarded by two or three players. “Everybody’s good so every game’s a challenge. All the defenders are good. It’s definitely more challenging every game.”

The Elon College sophomore has handled those challenges pretty well.

After a strong freshman season, Thomas enters this weekend’s Southern Conference Tournament as the league’s leader in goals (10) and points (21). Outside of a two-goal showing in a recent 4-1 win at Georgia Southern, his goals have come one at a time in the more grinding college game.

“Hopefully I can keep raising that (goal total),” Thomas said. “The beginning of the season wasn’t great for me, but I’ve been playing well lately. ... Last season I was kind of new to everything even though I started from my first game on. I was nervous to do certain things. Now I’m older, more confident and trying to be a guy people can look up to.”

Thomas wasn’t pleased with not converting simple goal chances early in the season, but he’s started to finish those off much better. It’s helped Elon to an 8-5-1 record (5-2-1 in the league) heading into today’s 3 p.m. tournament opener against host Appalachian State.

“We’re one of the favorites,” Thomas said of the tourney. “I feel like we’re peaking at the right time. We’re unbeaten the last three games and the key to the end of the season is going on a run. I feel like this is our time.”

SOCCER

Kinney suffers torn Achilles

Norcross grad Steven Kinney, a rookie defender for Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, saw his season come to an end Oct. 23 in a 4-1 win over Chivas USA when he ruptured his right Achilles tendon.

The former Elon standout had surgery three days later and is in rehabilitation for the 2011 season.

Baker, Au get SEC honors

Georgia goalkeeper Ashley Baker, a Parkview grad, was named second team All-SEC this week and North Gwinnett grad Danielle Au, who plays at South Carolina, made the freshman All-SEC team.

Baker had a four-game streak of scoreless soccer this season that spanned 561 minutes, the longest SEC streak in UGA history. She leads the SEC in save percentage (.861), is tied for first in shutouts (nine) and is fourth in saves (93).

Au, who has started every South Carolina match, has four goals and two assists.

Local Gamecocks praised for academics

South Carolina seniors Blake Brettschneider and Jimmy Maurer were named to the CoSIDA ESPN Academic All-District III first team this week.

Blake Brettschneider, a Parkview grad, has four goals (two game-winners) this season and leads Conference USA with eight assists. Maurer, a Lawrenceville resident who went to St. Pius, has played all but 17 minutes tis season and leads the league with seven shutouts. His 26 career shutouts are second-most in school history.

South Carolina sophomore Christine Watts of Peachtree Ridge made second-team academic all-district. She has six assists and is a top defender on the SEC’s No. 1 scoring defense.

Quick kicks

Three Gwinnett products made the All-Peach Belt Conference academic team — North Georgia’s Natalie Douglass (Brookwood), Columbus State’s Stephanie Parrish (Grayson) and Armstrong Atlantic’s Kristina Pascutti (Parkview). Douglass has a 3.55 GPA (nursing major), Parrish has a 3.47 GPA (accounting) and Pascutti has a 3.78 GPA (undecided).

CROSS COUNTRY

Mecheso wins Big 12 championship

Former Berkmar star Girma Mecheso, now a junior at Oklahoma State, won the Big 12 individual cross country championship last weekend and helped the Cowboys to the team championship.

Mecheso, the SEC individual champion at Auburn as a freshman before transferring, ran the 8K course in 23 minutes, 56.94 seconds. Defending national champion Oklahoma State is currently ranked first nationally during the season for the first time ever.

Winslow helps FSU to title

Collins Hill grad Amanda Winslow was 18th overall at last weekend’s ACC Championships, helping Florida State to the team title.

Winslow finished the 5K course in 20:56.40. Two weeks earlier, she placed seventh at NCAA Pre-Nationals with a personal-best 20:32.80, earning ACC performer of the week honors.

On the run

Two local runners at Georgia College and State University made the All-Peach Belt Conference academic team — Brookwood’s Dani Destiche and Collins Hill’s Erik Ottoson. Destiche has a 3.63 GPA in outdoor education and Ottoson has a 3.33 GPA in management.

SWIMMING

Freeman gets SEC weekly award

Greater Atlanta Christian’s Will Freeman of Georgia was named the SEC freshman of the week after a strong performance in a meet vs. rival Florida.

Freeman posted a second-place finish in the 1,000 freestyle with a time of 9 minutes, 2.27 seconds, which was the sixth-fastest in school history and second-fastest in the nation this year. He also came in third in the 500 freestyle in 4:28.64 and fifth in the 200 butterfly in 1:51.15.

Freeman then picked up two wins Wednesday night in a victory over Georgia Tech and Emory. He was first in the 1,000 free (9:13.51) and 500 free (4:32.92).

FOOTBALL

Thomas gets academic honor

Valdosta State’s Jake Thomas was named to the CoSIDA ESPN Academic All-Region Team this week.

The North Gwinnett grad, who maintains a 3.89 GPA in business management, has started all eight games at center for the Blazers. He has 37 knockdown blocks with an average grade of 76 percent.

Quick hits

Dawson Zimmerman blasted a 76-yard punt last weekend, but it didn’t help Clemson from losting 16-10 at Boston College. The Brookwood grad booted a 79-yarder (the second-longest in school history) earlier this year. ... Jonathan Krause of South Gwinnett scored on a 21-yard TD run to give Vanderbilt an early 7-0 lead on Arkansas before falling 49-14. ... Ole Miss’ Melvin Harris of Buford had five catches for 45 yards in a loss to top-ranked Auburn.

Norcross grad D.J. Adams had 16 carries for 84 yards and two TDs last Saturday as Maryland routed Wake Forest 62-14. ... Missouri State’s Chris Douglas of Peachtree Ridge ran for three TDs in a 51-41 win over Southern Illinois. ... Central Gwinnett grad Bryce Smith had 10 tackles and a pass breakup as Samford beat Georgia Southern 20-13.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.