Tonicia Thomas and her mom made a deal.
If 6-year-old Tonicia was going on the family vacation to Hawaii that summer, she first had to learn how to swim.
“I don’t remember the lessons at all,” Thomas said, “but my mom says I took to it really well. I went past every level as fast as possible.”
Thomas went on that trip to Hawaii, and she did so well in the lessons that the instructors recommended Thomas join the club swimming team in her hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., when she returned from the islands.
More than 10 years later, the junior at Rancho still is in the water, hoping to bring an individual state title to a program not exactly known as a swimming factory.
“I think that would be pretty incredible, actually,” Thomas said. “I think it’d be really cool to have my school behind me with that, too, because Rancho is not known for athletics — at all — in these past 15 some-odd years. So it’d be really cool to get Rancho on the map for that.”
Thomas, who is enrolled in the sports medicine program as part of Rancho’s Academy of Medicine, has been one of the state’s top swimmers throughout her time at the school.
As a freshman, she was second in the 100-yard backstroke at the Sunrise Region meet and went on to a seventh-place finish in that event at the state meet. Last season, Thomas won region titles in the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke, missing the Sunrise record in the latter event by six-hundreths of a second.
Thomas entered last year’s Division I state meet with the top qualifying time in the 100 backstroke and led the race after the first 50 yards. But Rachel Matsumura of Galena reeled her in over the final two laps to win in 56.82 seconds, while Thomas touched second in 57.19.
Thomas has continued to improve in the 100 backstroke in the past year, making her one of the favorites at next month’s state meet over competitors from schools with richer swimming traditions than Rancho’s.
“I don’t see it as any different than if I were to swim for like a Coronado or Boulder City or Green Valley or any of those schools,” Thomas said. “A name is a name, and I don’t think it really matters. It’s all about how you perform ... and how you get along with your teammates.”
Thomas competed in the National Club Swimming Association junior nationals last month at Orlando, Fla., where she was 31st in the 100 backstroke (56.09) and 33rd in the 200 backstroke (2:00.81) against many of the country’s top swimmers.
Her best time in the 100 backstroke is 55.79, which she posted in November while winning the girls 15-and-older division at the Nevada club short-course state championship. Had the mark come during high school competition, it would rank No. 2 in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association record book.
“(My goal is to) beat that time,” Thomas said. “That’s all swimming is, to see what our next best time is going to be.”
Thomas trains exclusively with the Desert Storm club team but makes an effort to be a visible member of Rancho’s team.
Thomas politely excused herself from part of an interview to participate in a team cheer before the start of Tuesday’s meet against Valley. And Rams first-year coach Jessica Sadev even created a “junior” captain spot for Thomas this season to ensure she was in a leadership position.
“She is a tour-de-force personality,” Sadev said. “Tonicia is just one of those people on the team who commands respect. She is the gold standard, the benchmark. ... She motivates and inspires everyone else on the team.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.