Goal-oriented: Soccer season breaks up hoops grind for Trojans’ keeper

Most people wouldn’t consider being the last line of defense for one of the state’s top soccer programs a form of stress relief.

For Ella Thompson, though, it’s a welcome respite from the grind of the AAU basketball summer circuit.

“It’s a nice little break,” the Center Grove junior said, “because AAU, you’re playing 50 games over the summer, so soccer is just a nice little break before we get back into basketball season.”

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Thompson’s athletic future might be on the hardwood, but she’s made a name for herself as a top-tier netminder as well. In 17 games last season, she gave up just 14 goals, earning All-County and all-conference recognition.

Being able to excel in that spot without playing soccer during the offseason isn’t as difficult as one might think, Thompson said, because most of the skills that help her on the basketball court translate well to goalkeeping.

“I can be a little rusty with my foot skills,” she conceded, “but since I’m a goalie, a lot of it is just reaction, so it’s just kind of something that you have. It’s not as hard as it would be for a field player to jump back in.”

“A lot of the things that she uses — the hand-eye coordination, speed, quickness, lateral agility, all that’s in basketball anyway,” Center Grove coach Mike Bishop added, “so you just add a wrinkle of getting behind a ball and making sure it hits part of you and doesn’t go in the back of the net.”

Helping a ball find the net is Thompson’s primary goal for most of the year. She was the starting point guard for the Trojans as a sophomore, and she helped her AAU team, Indy Gym Rats Gold, claim the U15 national championship last weekend. There’s no doubt about what her sport of choice is.

Having a chance to do something different for three months, though, helps keep her from getting burned out.

“It’s a nice little break,” Thompson said, “because AAU, you’re playing 50 games over the summer, so soccer is just a nice little break before we get back into basketball season.”

That doesn’t mean it’s a life of leisure, though. The Trojans always have high expectations, and they’re particularly hungry after suffering an overtime defeat against Franklin Central in last year’s regional.

Thompson says she and her teammates are more focused heading into this year because of that setback.

“That was a tough loss last year, but it’s been very motivating for our team,” she said. “We’re definitely really excited to get back to that point; it’s motivating us to work hard.”

Many coaches would prefer that their netminder spend more time on the soccer field during the summer months, but Bishop isn’t about to complain when it comes to Thompson — he’ll happily take as much of her as he can get.

“You get thankful that you have a player that’s as athletic and as talented,” the coach said.

At a glance

The Daily Journal will be rolling out the remainder of its fall sports previews over the next two weeks:

Cross country: Saturday

Volleyball: Monday

Girls soccer: Tuesday

Boys soccer: Wednesday

Football: Beginning Thursday

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.