If there is one thing every team needs no matter the sport it's a team player, and freshman catcher Liliana Thomas has taken that role on the ASU softball team with pride and confidence.
Thomas, better known as "Lil" by her teammates and peers, hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, and had inspirations growing up, such as her father.
"He was always the person to tell me that there is someone working harder than you, which prepared me better to coming here," Thomas said. "Having that mindset from what he taught me really helped me out."
Another inspiration of Thomas is the University of Oklahoma's Jocelyn Alo, who is considered one of the best hitters in college softball and is also from Hawaii.
"I grew up watching her, and one day she came to hit with me which created our bond," Thomas said. "She made me realize a girl like me can make it to a D1 school."
In her time playing high school softball, Thomas achieved what few have in Hawaii have ever achieved, winning Gatorade player of the year award in 2020.
"I didn't really believe at first. I didn't know how to react," Thomas said. "It was a full-circle moment for me, it made me realize that all the hard work paid off."
When figuring out what school she wanted to come to, Thomas had ASU as one of her top schools and head coach Trisha Ford had Thomas at the top of her recruiting list.
"Lil is fantastic, she was one of the top catchers coming out of high school, especially in the state of Hawaii," Ford said. "She's got the tremendous work ethic and grit."
Thomas echoed Ford's sentiment with her own love and appreciation for Ford, who Thomas said is the "reason I came to ASU."
Now being at ASU, Thomas is experiencing an issue college athletes and regular college students go through — being homesick.
"I get really homesick," Thomas said. "But having my team and the people I have met up here made it a lot easier for me."
Jessica Puk, a graduate student who transferred from Ole Miss and plays catcher, has been a big role model for Thomas and has helped her get through challenges, despite what people might think because of the competitiveness of the game.
"I'm super proud of Lil, we have such a great relationship" Puk said. "Being in year five of college softball it's to be able to pass down information, different things I've gone through and the game and in life in general on how to navigate college, I'm just really, really proud of her growth."
Thomas said people believe there would be competition between the two because they play in the same position, however, she credits Puk for taking her under her wing and helping her as an athlete.
"She's going to be something really special here and I can't wait to see everything unfold for her," Puk said. "I can get emotional about it, but me and her talk a lot every single day and you know, just her growth as a person, as a player, it's really fun to watch and I'm excited for her future here and she's going to be great."
Another player Thomas sees as a role model is senior outfielder Yannira Acuña better known as "Yani."
"She helps me with the mental side of my game," Thomas said. "If she sees me kind of struggling she'll take me off to the side, and just tell me to relax and calm down."
Thomas has a lot of goals she wants to accomplish while at ASU which she hopes help propel her into the rest of her life.
"I want to build my brand here in the softball community," Thomas said. "My goal in life is to build my own facility and to be a coach one day, which would be super awesome."
Thomas also said she values friendships highly and wants more of that not only at ASU, but beyond.
"I want to build friendships with people from different places because who wouldn't want that." Thomas said. "It would be super cool."
In the next four years, there is a lot to expect from Thomas and she knows that.
"Expect a lot of energy, and expect to see me jumping up and down," Thomas said. "Even if I'm on the bench or in the dugout, expect to see the craziest parts of me because that's what I get from playing softball."
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.