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The Sky is the Limit for Trinity Meteors with Basketball star Edel Thornton

Born and raised in Gurranabraher, Co. Cork, Edel’s earliest basketball memories were going to games with her parents to see her older brother Frank play. “I usually sat around with my Dad and ran out on court with a ball during timeouts”, once she started bouncing a ball in the Parochial Hall she never looked back.

The now 23-year-old was a teenage phenomenon who collected MVP baubles time and time again for St Vincent’s secondary school and Brunell basketball club, most memorably at 16 when she was the star performer in both the U18 and U20 deciders. “I would have never considered myself as a rising star. When I was young, I always wanted to be better and I was never satisfied. I worked extremely hard, by the time I reached U16’s opposing teams started to single me out as a “worry” and mark me harder.”

Asked where this determination comes from, Edel mentions when she was cut from the Cork basketball team at the age of 15 “I attended inter-regional (Munster) trials with five of my teammates, they all made the team and I didn’t. Getting cut from that team was my ‘prove them wrong’ moment, I never wanted to feel like that again. When it came to the Irish trials later that year, I was nervous but determined to get on the national team. After a two-day trial with Ireland, the email came through and I was so relieved to make the national team. One of my favourite memories playing with Ireland was the U-18 FIBA European Championships, it’s always exciting pulling on the green jersey. Every game for Ireland is like the thrill of a cup final.”

As a teenager, she had basketball idols in LeBron James and Women’s NBA powerhouse Diana Tuarasi (“I always related to her will to win”), Edel always had dreams of playing basketball at the highest level in America. Thornton’s opportunity came when American college scouts watched her play for Ireland under-18s at the FIBA European Championships. It wasn’t long before she received an offer of a full-time basketball scholarship from Quinnipiac University, Connecticut.

Most students living away from home can testify to the difficulties of adapting to college life. For Thornton it was especially challenging, “I was essentially adjusting to college - which a lot of people at home struggle with anyway - but I was doing it in a different country, without any of my friends or family to lean on. Additionally, I was adapting to a new school system while also experiencing a demanding preseason campaign.” It didn’t take long for Edel to find her tribe within the Quinnipiac University basketball team, “I found myself within a cocoon as all fifteen players were on a scholarship and our days were scheduled around basketball. We had our ups and downs and we all attacked each other at practice or during games but we were so close that we felt invincible.”

It was this ‘invincible’ mentality and work ethic that ensured the team qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One women’s basketball tournament. The NCAA is the highest-level college teams can play in America; Quinnipiac University went into the tournament as under dogs ranked as 12th seeds. Quinnipiac beat two top-tier teams in Marquette and the University of Miami, making it to the sweet 16 knock-out rounds. “The sweet sixteen run and the two games in Miami to get to California was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had and perhaps will have as a basketball player.” It was a huge achievement for the Quinnipiac University team and for Thornton as she became the first Irish basketball player to ever reach the sweet 16 round of the NCAA Division One women’s basketball tournament.

As senior year approached, Edel focused on her next opportunity, “I knew I wanted to play basketball, but I also knew that I wanted to complete a masters programme. The Applied Behaviour Analysis (M. Sc.) course in Trinity College Dublin was extremely interesting to me, Professor Seamus Donnelly called me to say he was coming to Yale to work and wanted to speak with me. It was an easy decision to make as I was being offered a top tier education at Trinity College Dublin while also being able to play Division One basketball with Trinity Meteors.”

Edel’s winning ways didn’t stop as the Trinity Sport Scholar had a dream first season with Trinity Meteors. The team secured a spot in the Hula Hoops National Cup Final and went on to be crowned Basketball Ireland Division One Champions, Thornton was also named as the Basketball Ireland Division One ‘Player of the Year’. Next season Trinity Meteors will compete in the Super League, the top tier women’s basketball league in Ireland. Having a player of her experience come to Trinity College Dublin is an invaluable asset for the women’s basketball team. For Thornton, the best way for her to contribute is to lead by example, “it sounds simple, but I learned how to be a better leader and how understanding all your teammates can really help the whole team and the success of the team.”

When asked what her goal is for the coming season, the answer was, “Win more games! I think for us coming up a league it would be foolish to ask for us to win the league, but I do think we can battle it out and win some big games.” No doubt, the sky is the limit for Trinity Meteors with basketball star Edel Thornton.

Trinity College Dublin collaborated with Meteors Basketball club to drive sporting excellence and provide a national league platform for Trinity students to perform at the highest level. This in turn has attracted top athletes to study at Trinity College Dublin such as several Irish National Squad players and US college league players, also contributing to Trinity winning the national college league title for the first time this year.

This feature was first published in the digital version of Trinity Today 2020, to read the full digital magazine click here.