Home sweet home.
For junior defensive specialist McKenna Thornlow, the desire to come back home was strong after playing her first two years at North Texas.
Thornlow grew up in Colorado Springs and Rampart High School alumnus. A military brat growing up, she wanted to get away from home for her college experience.
So she went to Denton, TX., and played two years of college volleyball at North Texas for the Mean Green. But it did not go as ideally as planned. She felt homesick and things were not going smoothly with the team.
It was time to transfer. And for Thornlow, there was only one destination she had in mind.
Back home in Colorado.
After looking into several different Colorado schools, she got in touch with head coach Tom Hilbert. From those conversations, CSU seemed to fit the bill for everything she wanted, and the decision became crystal clear.
“I wanted to play at a high level,” Thornlow said. “As soon as Tom reached back out to me I knew this was going to be right for me. I could feel it. I knew this was such a great program and this would be everything I wanted in a school. I trusted him and I could tell by how he and other people talked about the program that it was the right place to be.”
It might go without saying, but the arrival of a transfer from another Division I program can be unpredictable. Coaches can not really plan or account for a transfer to come in, a lot of times it just falls into place.
A risk may also be involved. There might be reasons they left their old school that exist below the surface that could plague their new team. For all anybody knows, somebody else’s dirty laundry could be washing up on shore.
That could not be farther from the truth for Thornlow, Hilbert insisted.
“You have to examine it and look at the situation,” he said. “You try assess what you’re looking at. In her case it was someone who wanted to come home. She was having a bad experience at her other school and she’s a good player.”
When she first stepped into the gym at CSU, Thornlow was in an intriguing positon. She was new to CSU, but not new to the whole college volleyball thing. On a team loaded with freshman, she was somewhat thrust into an instant leadership position, which might be rare for a first-year transfer.
It’s something she has embraced whole-heartedly and perhaps even been her favorite part of this new experience, even more so than being able to step in and play for one of the most successful volleyball programs in the country.
“I knew I would have to step up my game if I wanted to play here,” she said. “Getting on the team was a big step for me and the next step was getting to play. But it wasn’t just that, I wanted to step up as a leader for my freshman. I have the opportunity to make a good impact on their lives and change volleyball the way I might not have gotten it. I wanted to not only step up as a player and improve my game, but also step up for my little babies.”
Thornlow has entered the starting lineup the last several weeks, and a lot of that has to do with her serving ability. She is leading the team in aces with 12. Serving has always been a strength of her game, and she will not shy away from taking the ball behind the service line with the match or set on the line.
“I do take a lot of pride in my serving,” she said. “I know I don’t jump really high but I know that when I get back there I’m going to make it tough for you. No what matter what the scenario is, put me game point, 23-24 and I’ll make my serve. I’m very confident in my serving ability.”
She is a bit of a jokester also. Senior libero Cassidy Denny attested to this. Thornlow’s accent impersonating skills are on-point. Her dance skills, maybe not as much.
“She’ll dance really weird,” Denny said. “She’s a girl of 500 voices. She does any accent in any voice. She’s really good at them all, which is funny. Sometimes she’ll have these spastic dance moves where we are just like ‘Where did that come from?’ She’s definitely funny for sure.”
Coming to CSU has been a high school reunion of sorts for Thornlow, she has many old pals from Rampart who now go to CSU that she has been able to reconnect with since arriving in Fort Collins.
Aside from that, she didn’t have any family ties to CSU, her sister is actually a recent graduate of CU. And of course a friendly family rivalry was sparked when Thornlow decided to be a Ram.
Being back in friendly territory has been a great experience for her, though. Her parents are able to come watch her play often, which has been really cool for her teammates to see, Denny said.
She’s fit in on the team like a pea in a pod. The transition has been seamless and she’s at home. Not only in Colorado, but with her team.
“Coming into the program I felt like I was at home,” Thornlow said. “There was no awkward period, it just was right. It was an instant fit.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley