Oct. 7, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- UW middle blocker Dominique Thompson has a working understanding of “Border Battles” or rivalries from within the context of her own family. Her mom, Stephanie, played volleyball at Iowa. Her dad, Darrell, played football at Minnesota. In fact, he’s still the school’s all-time leading rusher.
So how did Dominique Thompson, a freshman from Plymouth, Minn., (Robbinsdale Armstrong) wind up at Wisconsin? “I wanted to go Big Ten because that’s what my parents did,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go where they did.”
Instead, she wanted to carve out her own identity -- separate from that of her parents -- and she’s in the process of doing exactly that with the youthful Badgers volleyball team. The 5-foot-11 Thompson has started 13 of 14 matches and leads the team with .96 blocks per set.
The irony is that volleyball was never her first choice largely because everyone in her family had some connection to the sport. “I’m the kind of person who likes to do it differently from everyone else,” said Thompson, who didn’t begin playing until her freshman year of high school.
That accounted for her late development. To this end, UW coach Pete Waite recalled the early scouting report that he received on Thompson from his assistant, Brian Heffernan.
“We saw her at the end of her sophomore year and we didn’t see too much,” Waite said. “But we saw her potential, so we kept her on our list. About six or seven months later, Brian saw her again and said, ‘Wow, she’s improved so much. She’s so athletic and she doesn’t get rattled much.’”
What about her DNA?
“Absolutely, part of it obviously is the genes,” Waite said. “You have great athletic ability on both sides of the family. And most former college athletes who have kids don’t push them too hard competitively. But they watch over them and make sure they’re progressing.”
In her media bio, Thompson was asked, “What are you most thankful for?”
And she responded, “Being pushed to play volleyball by my family.”
Darrell Thompson used the word ‘’encouraged” instead of pushed. Thompson is good with words, too. He’s the analyst on the Gophers radio network for football.
While he’s in the press box for Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium, his daughter will be getting ready for a match that night at Michigan State.
“It just brings me to tears sometimes – I’m so proud of her,” said the 42-year-old Thompson, who rushed for 4,654 yards and 40 touchdown during his four-year career at Minnesota (1986-89).
Is Dominique aware of her dad’s prolific numbers as a college running back? “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized it more,” she said. “My grandpa has shown me a few video tapes of him. But he’s extremely humble and he doesn’t talk about it all. The only way I hear about him is from other people.”
Grandpa Thompson, George Thompson, is the volleyball patriarch. He even wrote a book on the sport before it was fashionable. He competed well into his 50s and set an example for his kids.
George Thompson, Jr. played volleyball at Pepperdine.
Jenifer Thompson played volleyball at Iowa.
Darrell Thompson? Wanted nothing to do with it.
“My dad tried to get me to play,” he said. “But I wasn’t really into it.”
Like father like daughter.
“When I first started playing volleyball, I didn’t like it that much,” Dominique Thompson said. “I almost didn’t want to play after my freshman year. I wasn’t that good at it. I struggled. I was always the person with the worst skills in all of the drills. And I didn’t like being bad at a sport.”
Unlike her dad, she stuck with it. And it started to grow on her as she began to slowly but surely learn the nuances. During her sophomore year, she received some recruiting letters from schools. And once that happened she conceded, “OK, this sport is my sport. I really like it.”
What’s there not to like about a sport that was responsible for her mom and dad meeting?
At the end of Darrell Thompson’s sophomore year, the Gophers played their final Big Ten football game at Iowa. Thompson got permission to stay over in Iowa City that Saturday night so he could watch his sister play volleyball for the Hawkeyes.
“After the match, my sister asked me if I wanted to hang out with the volleyball team,” said Thompson, who wound up being introduced to his future wife, Stephanie Smith.
Dominique Thompson wears No. 14. Same as mom.
Since the roster size in volleyball is limited (usually Nos. 1-18), dad was out of luck. Darrell Thompson wore No. 39 with the Gophers. He had a different tag with the Green Bay Packers: No. 1.
In 1990, he was a first-round pick of the Packers (No. 19 overall).
He spent five seasons in Green Bay and that made it a little bit easier for Darrell Thompson to accept Dominique’s decision to accept a tender to Wisconsin and become a Cheesehead. He even has a Badgers sticker on his car. “And I take a lot of crap for that (in Minneapolis),” he said, laughing.
Darrell and Stephanie Thompson have been down to Madison three times already since the start of the school year. “We’ve even learned that Wisconsin song they do after every game, you know, where everybody is rocking and waving,” he said.
That would be Varsity.
“My wife and I were cracking up at the thought of us doing that,” he added.
During one of his earlier visits, Darrell Thompson got to meet some of the other parents, including Kirby Toon’s father. Kirby is a sophomore from Middleton. Her father? Al Toon, the fourth-leading receiver in UW history. “I’ve always admired him from a distance,” Darrell said.
Have Kirby Toon and Dominique Thompson compared notes? “We’ve not really talked about it,” Dominique said. “We’ve just kind of joked about having football dads.”
Darrell Thompson sounds awful proud to have a volleyball daughter, though.
Makes up for all the guff he takes for having a Badger in the family.