WINTER GARDEN When Jerry Shafer, the new athletic director at West Orange High, received word that one of school’s most experienced and respected coaches would be stepping down to pursue other avenues, it could have been disastrous for the school’s girls lacrosse team.
Mary Hopkins had, after all, coached the Warriors to several successful seasons and is a well-regarded figure in the local lacrosse scene and beyond
"She (Thorndill) was very successful at Ocoee — it was a no-brainer. I just like her approach to everything.”
— Jerry Shafer,
Fortunately, though, there just happened to be an experienced girls lacrosse coach already teaching on campus. Nikki Thorndill, who has been teaching social studies at West Orange High since fall of 2011, started the girls lacrosse program at Ocoee High in the spring of 2007.
“With her being on campus, and she was very successful at Ocoee — it was a no-brainer,” Shafer said. “I just like her approach to everything.”
Thorndill’s original team at Ocoee went 0-9 in the spring of 2007 but bounced back the next season with a 9-4 record. The team’s strongest season came in 2009, when the Knights went 12-5, and Thorndill’s overall record at Ocoee from 2007 through 2011 was 38-33, per laxpower.com.
Thorndill came to the area from New York, where she grew up on Long Island and played collegiately at the University of Albany. After her college career concluded, the coach who recruited her to Albany — Dennis Short — had taken the head coaching job at Rollins College in Winter Park, and he suggested she come to Florida to grow the game as a career.
“He (Short) was like, ‘Well, why don’t you come teach and coach down here?’” Thorndill said.
While teaching at West Orange, Thorndill briefly served as an assistant to Hopkins, but she mostly has been away from the high-school lacrosse scene for the last six years.
Given the chance to pick up the baton at a program with as much tradition as West Orange is a welcome opportunity.
"Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life — I went to college for it, I came to Florida for it, I met my husband because of it. I’m so excited about coaching the athletes at West Orange."
— Nikki Thorndill
“I’m very excited,” she said. “Lacrosse has been a huge part of my life — I went to college for it, I came to Florida for it, I met my husband because of it. I’m so excited about coaching the athletes at West Orange. I’m grateful to Mary, and I’m grateful for her efforts and everything she put into this program.”
Like many programs at West Orange this fall, the girls lacrosse program was destined to have a different feel even before the coaching change. The combination of graduating seniors and some of last year’s underclassmen being zoned for the new Windermere High program means there will be plenty of new faces being charged with new roles for the Warriors.
Thorndill said she plans to start by building a relationship with her players. She has an idea for a style of play she’d like her team to exhibit — a disciplined, methodical attack based on set-plays — and will get to work on creating a schedule for the spring season soon.
Returning to the sideline and replacing a veteran coach such as Hopkins will be no small task, but Thorndill said she is ready.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a challenge,” Thorndill said. “But I like challenges.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].