Staff Photo: John Bohn Tori Windom plays lacrosse for Mill Creek High School. Windom has stepped up to fill a void created by a serious injury to her team's leading scorer.
When last year's leading scorer and 2012 Preseason Super Six selection Alexis Ordini was lost for several weeks earlier this season with a leg injury, Mill Creek girls lacrosse coach Brian Williamson wasn't as worried as many coaches might be in a similar situation.
After all, he had a deep group of players with plenty of potential to take up the scoring slack in Ordini's absence.
Just as important, he had a catalyst player to help fill more of an on- and off-field leadership role in Tori Windom.
Sure, the junior midfielder has done her part on the field, jumping up among Mill Creek's team leaders with 46 goals, 14 assists, 13 draw controls, 26 loose balls and seven forced turnovers.
But as the Hawks (16-2) head into their first-round game of the Class AAAAA state playoffs today against Hillgrove at Mill Creek Community Stadium, the junior midfielder continues to be a driving force as a team leader, even after Ordini's return to the lineup late last month.
"Tori picked up some of her scoring, but the whole team kind of picked it up, too," Williamson said. "Tori's one of our three captains, and she's one of those kind of kids ... who's very personable with the (rest of the) kids. She always has a smile on her face. She's literally everybody's best friend."
Windom's friendly personality came in handy after the injury to Ordini in March, an injury that could have devastated plenty of other teams.
But like Williamson, she was convinced Mill Creek had plenty of talent to keep the offense rolling.
She was more concerned with keeping her teammates spirits up.
"We knew we couldn't let up and that we had to keep playing," Windom said. "We had to stay focused. The good thing about our team is that we have a lot of strong players. And I'm very vocal, and I like to lead. I just told everyone we had to step up.
"A lot of it was by example. ... At practices, I was always trying to go 100 percent and talk everyone up -- just set an example for everyone."
But Windom's willingness to reach out to her teammates and keep them on the same page as a team began even before Ordini's injury.
Whenever there's an off-the-field team get-together, be it a team overnight party or pool party, there's a good chance the Windom home will be a the center of team bonding.
The result has been a team chemistry the likes of which Williamson, who also coaches Mill Creek's volleyball team, says he's never seen.
"We have had zero issues in terms of kids liking each other this year," Williamson said. "And Tori's a big part of that."
But while being a catalyst to having the team get along well enough to make this season a fun experience is important to her, she and her teammates are still very competitive.
They also remember how a similar successful regular season in its first year of varsity play a year ago ended in a not-so-pleasant 22-5 loss to Northview -- an effort Windom says the Hawks vow not to repeat tonight against Hillgrove.
She was also reminded of that game when Ordini was injured, and she said it was a motivation force for the Hawks to not let their season collapse.
"That was in the back of my mind," Windom admitted. "We weren't going to be losing games because we lost a player. We didn't want to deal with that again. We were embarrassed (losing the in the state playoffs last year). We were on our home field, and we got killed.
"But honestly, after that game, I tried to think of it in a positive way. I tried to think of it as a learning experience."