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The Ties That Bind
Below is a feature article written by Joe Carmany, assistant athletics communications director at Liberty, on middle blocker Loren Thomas, a senior from Ocoee, Fla. The article first appeared in the Sept. 8 issue of Flames Illustrated, the official program for the Norfolk State at Liberty football game.
The Liberty volleyball team has built a family atmosphere, one in which senior middle blocker Loren Thomas has thrived. Her journey to this point included another adopted family situation, one which strengthened her character.
Thomas has become one of the most dominant blockers in program and conference history, and has earned her share of personal accolades during her first three-plus seasons at Liberty. She was named the 2012 Big South Preseason Player of the Year following a first-team all-conference mention last season. In 2011, she set program records in both single-season and single-match blocks, and was tabbed Big South Tournament MVP after leading the Lady Flames to the Big South title.
Roughly eight years before she became a Division I volleyball player, Thomas faced family difficulties. In 2001, her father, Victor, an Orlando police officer for 18 years, was imprisoned for seven years, leaving Loren and her four siblings living with their mother, Natalie. Later that year, Mrs. Thomas was diagnosed with breast cancer, which claimed her life in 2006.
The five Thomas children then moved in with Don and Sheri Deluzio. The Deluzios welcomed Krystal, Loren, Erika, Victor, Jr. and Kelli, who joined their family along with four Deluzio children. According to Thomas, her mother had made this arrangement with the Deluzios in case something happened to her.
"The day that my mom died, actually that night, we moved in with the Deluzios and they took us all in, so it was the five of us, and then their four kids all living together in a house," Thomas said. "It was a lot of meshing of personalities and relationships. It was kind of different, because of my family situation. My mom was sick, so we were kind of used to being more independent, and then you move into a home that they do have two parents again."
When Victor, Sr., was released in 2007, Loren and her siblings moved back in with their father. It was agreed upon that all five Thomas children would rejoin their father upon his release.
"It was just different because, obviously I didn't know him as well anymore, because it's not the same. It was hard getting used to being under a father again and kind of getting to know him all over again," Thomas added. "It's a different story when you're nine as a child, to when you're 16 and you're growing up. I think it's gone pretty well overall."
The Thomas and Deluzio children have been very successful athletically, as Krystal Thomas played basketball at Duke and is now a member of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. In college, she played against Alexa Deluzio, who is a redshirt senior and a 1,000-point scorer at Florida State. Erika Thomas is a freshman right-side hitter at UConn, while Ben Deluzio is playing baseball at Florida State. Loren sees the potential for her younger siblings to join Division I athletics in the future.
Despite not living with the Deluzios anymore, Loren says that there remains a closeness between the families.
"Even to this day, my family and the Deluzios always keep in touch," Thomas said. "If I'm home for summer or Christmas break, my siblings and I will always go over there and spend a ton of time with them. Even my younger siblings still go over there all of the time."
Liberty played in the Holiday Inn Select/UCF Classic in nearby Orlando Aug. 31-Sept. 1. A large contingent of friends and family took in the matches, providing a home-court advantage of sorts for the Lady Flames. Victor, Sr., was in attendance, along with Don and Sheri Deluzio, and the two youngest children of both families. They were able to spend time together following Liberty's 3-2 win over the host Knights in the championship match on Saturday. For her efforts during the tournament, Thomas was named tournament MVP.
"I was just excited to come home and play in front of people that, if we hadn't come to Orlando, probably would have never seen me play," said Thomas. "So, it was a lot of fun."
Thomas is joined in the Lady Flames' lineup by former high school teammates Ansley Gebben and Gabrielle Shipe. The pair of sophomores also had a standout weekend at the UCF Classic, with Shipe leading the team in digs and Gebben making the all-tournament team. Thomas, Gebben and Shipe played together on a state championship team in high school at The First Academy, and earned a Big South Conference title together last year.
Thomas was drawn to the family atmosphere and Christian mission of the Liberty volleyball team when deciding where to go to college, and the bond has grown through the years.
"I think it helps that we're all kind of here under a common bond, that we're Christian girls who want to play at Liberty for the glory of God," Thomas noted. "All four years that I've been here, for the most part, there has been a lot of team chemistry. So, it's just so exciting to play with a group of girls who all genuinely love each other, but are also competitive and want to play to win."
Thomas and the Lady Flames, as a family, continue to drive for championships.