Volleyball MVP: Temi Thomas-Ailara
By Matthew Coronado
Senior Temi Thomas-Ailara is the clear heart and soul of the Northwestern volleyball team coming into the 2022 campaign.
In 2021, she led the team in kills, service aces and kill percentage. Her efforts earned her a spot on the All-Big Ten team and the 2022 preseason All-Big Ten team.
Thomas-Ailara’s displays explosiveness, lateral quickness and a high-degree of athleticism on a nightly basis. Her energy radiates to her teammates and last year, when Temi started playing well, so did the team.
Before Big Ten play began, Thomas-Ailara had already racked up six 15-plus kill games out of 11 total. She also had a season high number of aces against Colorado State with eight. The highlight for her during non-conference play was the win against Missouri where she accumulated 13 kills along with a .417 kill percentage in 3 sets.
Early in the Big Ten schedule, the six-foot-two outside hitter had solid outings, but the wins wouldn’t come quite yet. Thomas-Ailara put up 19 kills against Illinois, 21 against Minnesota and 18 against Penn State but all matches were lost in 4 or more sets.
From October 16 to November 7, Shane Davis’ squad had a record of 4-3. During this period, Thomas-Ailara was averaging a kill percentage of .219 and tallied 113 kills. Her resilience, energetic spirit and natural talent were integral to all 7 matches that the Wildcats won in 2021 and helped build momentum for the team during these positive weeks of the season.
Thomas-Ailara’s best game of the season came in the penultimate game against the Maryland Terrapins. She stuffed the stat line with 23 kills, 20 digs and 2 blocks. But as was a theme during the season, her personal play didn’t translate to the victory as the ‘Cats went down in 4 sets.
Temi ranked fourth in the Big Ten in kills per set and second in total points on the season. She’s proven to be one of the elite talents within the conference.
At the first-ever Big Ten Volleyball Media Days in August, Thomas-Ailara said she is excited to see where the new season goes, adding that the team has been trending in the right direction over the past couple years. With several returning upperclassmen, Thomas-Ailara will have the chance to build on everything she’s put into the team over her 3 previous years.