For USF senior setter Mariana Thon, volleyball is a sport she plays with passion and emotion. Sports is also in her bloodline.
The daughter of former Major League Baseball player Dickie Thon and the third of five children, Mariana comes from a family with a significant athletics background.
Her father played 15 years in the Major Leagues for the California Angels, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers before retiring in 1993.
Mariana’s mother, Sol, was a former pro volleyball player on the Puerto Rico National team. Her older sisters, Soleil and Vanessa, played collegiate volleyball for Rice and Tulsa, respectively. Her younger brother, Dickie Joe Thon, plays baseball and was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year.
Growing up, Mariana, 21, said knowing her dad was a former professional baseball player gave her the drive to push herself to try to be better than him.
She said she got a chance to watch him perform while he was with the Phillies, Brewers and in Puerto Rico.
“It was awesome. I can see how he takes higher standards in things,” she said. “First, I always work hard, but I always wanted to prove that I can be as good as him, even if I was never so close.”
But through the inspiration of both her mom and older sisters, Thon decided to play volleyball because softball was too slow.
“I lose focus and attention very easily,” she said. “When I’m playing volleyball, that’s impossible.”
With her family moving back and forth between Houston and Puerto Rico for most of her youth, Thon saw the first sign of stability when she started first grade in Houston. She lived there until eighth grade before moving back to Puerto Rico and then returning to Houston for her freshman year of high school.
In her senior year of high school, Thon’s family moved back to Puerto Rico, which she said was disappointing.
“I was kind of bummed because I loved it (in Houston), and I knew people down there, too,” she said. “It was kind of hard for me because I was really close to my volleyball team in Houston because we just won state (championship), and those are more like my closest friends and l loved my coach.”
Thon graduated from high school in Puerto Rico. That was when coach Claire Lessinger heard about her through assistant coach Nikki Shade. With Shade also hailing from Texas, Lessinger used that as a way to establish a connection with Thon.
“She was actually playing club (volleyball) in Texas and her family was living there at the time, but Nikki is from Texas and had great connections out there, and we obviously watched her play,” Lessinger said.
Since her freshman year at USF, Thon has been matched up with fellow senior outside hitter Allie Boaz. The two have developed a chemistry on and off the court. Thon sets up Boaz during games, but Boaz remembers when Thon had a big impact on her four years ago.
“Freshman and sophomore year, we were roommates and we were really close, and when I got hurt, she was a really good friend,” said Boaz, who tore her ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus during a game her freshman year in 2007. “When I had rehab and treatment, she was always there for me.”
Now in her senior year, Thon, a communications major, is having another strong year, ranking 10th in the Big East with 9.09 assists per set.
Thon said she also looks to play professional volleyball in Puerto Rico once she graduates from USF.
“That’s something you want to be involved in because socially and culturally it’s the sport to play (in Puerto Rico)” she said.
Lessinger said Thon has a good chance to fulfill her dream.
“I think she shows her personality through her playing ability, and you can tell that her passion is volleyball,” she said. “I feel like we get to see the best of her every day because we get to see her for three hours in practice doing what she loves to do.”