Ever since South Carolina freshman setter Kimmie Thompson was a child, volleyball and family have gone hand in hand. So it wasn’t a surprise that Kimmie followed her older sister’s footsteps and joined the Gamecocks volleyball team this fall.
Kimmie’s relationships with her two older sisters — Kaely and Kyra — have molded her into the person and volleyball player she is today.
“Looking back, they're just super. They're amazing role models for me,” Kimmie said. “They have so many aspects in them that I look up to and I feel like they have really shaped me as a person.”
When Kimmie made her commitment official, she shared a moment with Kaely and Kyra that embodied the spirit of being a Gamecock.
“She did not tell us when she was actually going to call Tom and commit,” Kaely said “One night we saw her go upstairs, and Kyra and I had our ears pressed against the door, and we heard her say the words ‘I'd like to commit or whatever. We busted into the room and started blaring Sandstorm.”
In their hometown of Simpsonville, the trio spent a lot of time together growing up. The three could often be found playing basketball, swimming in the creek or spending time with their extended family.
“Our family was super close as a whole, even my extended family, so I loved growing up with two sisters,” Kimmie said. “Everyone kind of wishes, like I always wished I had an older brother, but I wouldn't change that at all.”
When Kimmie joined her first club volleyball league, her early skills were good enough to play up three years.
“They were more mature, physically and on the mental side of things. I was so quiet, and I was 8 years old, so it was kind of intimidating,” Kimmie said.
At USC, Kimmie is in a similar situation. She is once again playing at a level where most people are older and more mature than her.
Playing older competition is nothing new to Kimmie. As a younger sibling, she is used to it.
At home, her father — Greg Thompson — set up a net in the backyard. Kimmie would not back down from her older sisters, competing with them despite the age gap.
“She would step up and challenge us for sure,” said Kyra, who plays beach volleyball for the College of Charleston. “We knew from a very early start that Kimmie was going to be amazing and probably exceed both of us in skillset just because she had it at such a young age, it came so naturally to her.”
Greg had the opportunity to coach all three of his daughters at different times, but some of his favorite memories come from watching them play in the backyard.
“The coolest times were to just to see the three of them kind of just messing around and bumping the volleyball together,” Greg said. “They would go out there and play two-on-one or one-on-one and just hit the ball around. So yeah, that was pretty cool.”
As Kimmie progressed, Greg noticed her evolving both in terms of her skills and as a leader.
“I didn't really know if she was going to develop in that some kids just … some kids just aren't in that space,” Greg said. “Part of me early on was like, ‘OK, well maybe she's, she's just not that person,’ But she developed her last couple years in high school. She really took on that role, in a surprising way.”
Gamecocks volleyball head coach Tom Mendoza closely followed Kimmie’s career. When sister Kaely was on the USC team, from 2017-20, it was even easier for him to watch Kimmie’s skills develop.
Kimmie first caught Mendoza’s eye during a team clinic over winter break when Kimmie was a high school freshman.
“She was not only doing really well with the instruction that we were giving, but she was helping coach the younger campers and the people that weren't as far along as she was,” Mendoza said. “It was a pretty impressive thing and definitely something that stuck with us.”
Kimmie shares many qualities with her sisters, but she was always smiling and seemed calmer.
“She was quietly competitive … like her sisters were more vocal than she was,” said Jan Carino, St. Joseph’s Catholic School volleyball head coach. “Her sisters would show some frustration sometimes, but I swear Kimmie always had a smile on her face.”
Kimmie played varsity volleyball for five years — including one year when she was in middle school — and won four 2A state titles at St. Joseph’s. Kimmie’s junior year, North Central broke the team’s six-year state title streak in the second round of the playoffs.
The next year, wanting to finish their high school careers on a high note, Kimmie and the six other seniors went on a run to the championship game where they faced North Central again.
In a five-set thriller, St. Joseph’s won after Kimmie rose up and spiked a ball to the floor to score the game’s 15th and final point.
“It was definitely a blur going back because it's just like a crazy moment, especially that being my final point of my high school career, it was just great,” Kimmie said. “I was happy to step up and be that person to put the ball away.”
Kimmie is majoring in exercise science like her sisters. Kaely joked Kimmie should pursue a career path that reflects her creativity.
“She was always rearranging her bedroom, too, for some reason. So, we always thought that Kimmy would go into some kind of, like, architecture or interior design,” Kaely said.
Besides rearranging her room, Kimmie would often create art. She loved to paint and make crafts. She brought these hobbies with her to college, even interior designing.
“I did rearrange my room a lot. I don't know why … like they actually did it here, like, a few weeks ago,” Kimmie said. “Starting from when I was little, in elementary school we had art classes and I just loved it. I had a great teacher who not only helped me in that class but as a human.”
Kimmie hasn’t seen much action yet in her Gamecock career. However, Mendoza said he is pleased with her performance.
“We were having talks with her of, ‘Hey make sure you're ready if we think you can go in and help the team in some close matches, you need to be ready,’” Mendoza said. “She's been looking more and more comfortable every practice, and you're seeing some of her strengths come through.”
As for her future in the program, Mendoza said “the sky is the limit” for Kimmie’s potential, and he hopes to see her develop into a consistent contributor.
“She's a little bit bigger than her sister and a little more physical than her sister was, so that's more of an option for her,” Mendoza said. “I think that's one of the exciting things is we get to see how she continues to develop.”
Kimmie knows it’s a process. When it’s all said and done, she hopes her impact on the program is felt.
“I definitely want to be remembered as someone who worked hard and knew my role,” Kimmie said. “I want to make sure that I'm some way making my team better at the end of the day.”