Maryland field hockey defender Emily Thomas earned a black belt in third grade, not realizing the endurance test she took before the belt was issued would assist her college career.

Three-hundred sit-ups. 100 push-ups. 100 squats and a full mile run.

Thomas tore her ACL in consecutive seasons at South River High School, jeopardizing her aspirations to play for the Terps. Through the same perseverance she showed in third grade, she overcame both injuries to become a consistent contributor to Maryland’s back line.

She’ll look to continue her play against No. 6 Michigan on Friday.

“It’s such a pleasant surprise,” coach Missy Meharg said. “I knew recruiting her out of South River that she was a valuable player. I’m just super pleased her knee is doing well and she’s back 100 percent.”

Thomas suffered her first setback during her junior year of high school, but that didn’t hinder Meharg’s recruiting pursuit. Soon after, Thomas committed to Maryland.

But she injured the same ligament during her final high school campaign, making her dream of an immediate contribution with the Terps unrealistic. Thomas couldn’t run during her first three months on the campus.

Over the next six months, she arrived at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex for daily rehab exercises, which prioritized getting Thomas’ knees and quads back to equal strengths. The process was more comprehensive than after the first tear and “a lot more careful,” Thomas said. She had to redshirt her first year in College Park.

Despite the extensive rehab, Thomas had to adjust her mindset entering Maryland’s first contest against Saint Joseph’s. It was the first time in months she had appeared in a game without thinking about an injury. She helped Maryland’s defense secure a 2-1 win, entering the game as a substitute.

After the contest, Meharg lauded Thomas’ effort, a turning point for the Edgewater native who had been itching to get into a game.

“It was the first time I felt like I was really helping the team,” Thomas said. “That’s a mindset I have to get out of, being injured. That was the first time I got out of that matchup.”

Thomas said she’s come to every Maryland Day since she was eight years old. Her parents went to this university. So, her emergence as a defensive force holds added meaning.

She’s started two games and appeared in eight this year, recording one assist in the process.

Thomas has also proven versatile, switching from midfield to defense early in the year. The move forced her from the side of the field to the center, which Meharg said better suits her strengths.

“She knows space before she gets the ball,” Meharg said. “Strategy-wise, you can ask something and she gets it and implements it pretty quickly.”