Brandi Thomas was a McDonald’s All-American nominee during her senior year of basketball at Elma High School.
Coincidentally, the exclusive achievement came while she was playing in an area void of the fast food franchise.
She now finds herself in another small town, albeit in a new role, and much like before, while she may have no way of locating a Big Mac within the city limits, she’s certainly having no difficulty once again finding success on the basketball court.
Thomas, just three years removed from playing at Washington State University, is in her first season as Tenino High School’s head girls basketball coach, inheriting a team which won just two games last year and features no seniors.
The Beavers have more than exceeded expectations this year under Thomas’ watch as the new coach has turned the once dormant program into a 10-win team.
“I just love watching them be excited about basketball,” Thomas said. “We have two juniors, no seniors and the rest freshmen and sophomores. It’s exciting to hear them talking about the future. This group has been awesome. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group being a first-year head coach.”
This isn’t the first time, however, Thomas helped turn a struggling program around.
It had been 23 years since WSU last made a postseason appearance. Thomas helped change all that.
During her freshman season in Pullman, the Cougars failed to even make it past the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, winning just eight games and ending the year on a six-game skid.
Fast forward three years and she concluded her collegiate career by leading Washington State to the semifinals of the conference tournament and a berth into the Women’s NIT.
“We progressively got better every year,” Thomas said. “It took time, but we put in the work and finally got there.”
Thomas is now poised to do the same at Tenino.
Despite their green lineup, the Beavers got off to a white-hot start this year, opening the season with five consecutive victories and winning seven of their first eight games.
“We came in and told them we’re here to build a program. It’s something we want to do. It’s something we expect to do,” Thomas said. “They bought right in and once they started winning some games you could see they started to realize this was something they could do.”
After an opening-season win over 2A Rochester, the Beavers clamped down defensively on opponents, holding seven of their next nine teams they faced to 27 points or less, including two teams to under 18 points.
“There’s so much potential here,” Thomas said. “I really enjoy the small town feel. Community is such a big part of who we are as a school. You can feel it when we walk into the gym. That’s something I experienced when I played high school basketball, and it’s great that we have that same environment here.”
Leading the way for the young Tenino squad this has been a pair of sophomores in captains Kaylee Schow and Rhian Mathis.
“Kaylee’s a worker. We always try to stress you practice how you play and she is always going a 100 miles per hour at practice. She’s just go, go, go,” Thomas said about the 5-foot-8 guard. “She’s always asking, ‘How can I get better?’ and staying after practice to work on her shot. It’s definitely paid off for her. They’ve both been just incredible this year for us. It’s great knowing we have a couple more years with both of them.”
Lannie Dowies and Ryann Wachter are the two juniors in the group with Lara Kershaw and Charlie Letts closing out the sophomore side of the rooster. Rounding out the team are freshmen Caitlyn Antill, Olivia Bailon, Taylor Duncan and Emma Homann.
“Obviously, you don’t get to pick the group of girls you have when you come into a new coaching position, but I got really lucky with this group,” Thomas said. “They are just great girls both on and off the court. We’re still learning to win, but we’re getting there. You can see they are starting to develop that confidence and we’re just trying to build from there.”