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Midland senior rises to highest soccer level

Oct. 13, 2012 @ 11:05 PM

HUNTINGTON -- In soccer, playing up at a higher level fits Jorden Thornton's line of thinking.

Thornton got her start in soccer at age 4 with the Great Teays Rec League in Teays Valley. She stayed there four years, then opted to move up to the U8 travel team for the Huntington-based West Virginia Soccer Club Rowdies. She was with the Rowdies on six consecutive West Virginia championship teams.

Once she got to Cabell Midland High School, Thornton ran the fields for two seasons with the Knights.

In her junior year, Thornton's mentality said it was time to move up again -- to shoot for the highest level.

The first step to making that a reality started with a conversation between Kevin Long, her club coach and also the Marshall University women's coach, and David Burch, then director of the travel program for the Richmond (Va.) Strikers Soccer Club. The Strikers are part of the Elite Clubs National League, which is at the top of the line when it comes to club soccer at the national level.

The Strikers know players from outside their immediate area would show interest since the caliber of play and exposure to college coaches is greatly enhanced. Even someone from West Virginia.

Thornton's three-game "audition" for the Strikers U18 team came last October at an ECNL Showcase Tournament in Phoenix. She met her teammates at the hotel and fit right in.

"I passed," said Thornton, who is in her second year with the club. "It was very demanding. They'd never seen me play. I'm fortunate to be a part of this team. Not many people get to experience what I've experienced."

Steve D'Adamo, the current U18 Strikers coach, said he didn't consider Thornton's trip to Arizona as a tryout because the Strikers were down a few players.

"Everything lined up," D'Adamo said. "We needed her to play, she added value to the team. The opportunity was there for Jorden. You get an opportunity you might not get. This is just not any soccer club. The competition here pushes the girls to be better."

Thornton, a center defender, later competed in a tournament in Sanford, Fla., and the Texas Showecase on Feb. 24-26 in San Antonio. She made that trip on her own. She also played in Charlotte and Virginia Beach. This season she'll return to Florida and Texas (Dallas this time) along with trips to Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

"Jorden's commitment to our ECNL team and her goal to play in college have both been obvious in the way she works and plays," then-U18 coach Adrian Snell said after Thornton joined the team.

Thornton played up a year at the U18 level in the ECNL as a U17 in lieu of playing high school soccer.

"I thought, "what am I getting into?' " Thornton said. "I'm a new girl from West Virginia. My teammates are very accepting."

When it comes to practice, Thornton's training base is home. Her practice partner is Wayne Bennett, a former Marshall soccer player who's been working with Thornton since she was about eight. Thornton went to Richmond in August for preseason workouts.

"I don't get much practice with the team, but they don't hold it against me," Thornton said. "It's hard training one on one without my team, but he (Bennett) always pushes me to work harder and do my best."

D'Adamo said there are times when all the soccer requirements take their toll on players and they give up.

"It's very difficult to do," D'Adamo said. "You run into time commitments all the time. It takes a lot of passion and dedication. It takes a special player to do that."

When it comes time to travel, Thornton's mother, Karen, and father, Joey, assist with the arrangements to get their daughter to the tournament site. Strikers players also make a sizable cash commitment up front to help cover expenses.

Thorton's performance attracted the attention of college coaches. The honor student who has a 4.5 GPA has accepted a scholarship to play for Atlantic 10 member Duquesne.

"The competition here raises your level of play," Thornton said.

D'Adamo appreciates the attention. He said a college coach from a Florida school once flew in to watch a match, then flew home. College coaches from Virginia, Richmond and Coastal Carolina have appeared at practices to watch and learn.

"We're a good fit," D'Adamo said.

Thornton said choosing the Strikers over the Knights has paid off.

"As much as I love high school (soccer), I wanted to go farther up in the game," she said. "I made the right decision."

Thornton officially began year two with the Strikers at a tournament in Washington D.C. last weekend.

"She understands the game, has the technical skills and she's smart. The fundamentals are there." D'Adamo said. "All the pieces fit in the right places. It's a very special situation."

Soccer isn't Thornton's only love. She still runs cross country for Cabell Midland and plays violin in the Tri-State Youth Orchestra. That creates one hectic schedule, but conflicts between the three activities have been minimal. She's been first-team Class AAA All-State twice in cross country.

Last Wednesday, Thornton placed fifth in the Mountain State Athletic Conference meet at Cedar Lakes in Ripley. She competed in the Maymont Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 29 in Richmond and placed 31st overall. In the Rio Grande Invitational, she came in ninth to lead the Lady Knights. In the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in Louisville, she came in 64th. Thornton started the season with a six-place finish in the GEICO Invitational and the Lady Knights wound up fourth overall.

Cabell Midland's next two races will be the Region IV meet and State Meet, which is at Cabell Midland.

"I want to finish on a strong note," she said.

When it comes to music, Thornon is first chair violin. That means she has the added responsibility of being concert master this year. Ron Caviani Jr. is the Tri-State Youth Orchestra director.

"Sports are a large part of my life. I don't put music first," Thornton said. "Mr. Caviani tolerates me, puts up with me."

Thorton took up the violin when she was in the second grade.

The three activities have caused Thornton to miss out on numerous events. ... dances, Homecomings, sleepovers with friends, birthday parties, etc. Holiday celebrations often are on the road. More than once, Thornton has played a soccer match, then immediately swapped the cleats for either running shoes, violin or homework.

Last weekend was a prime example. She competed in a road race in Huntington on Saturday morning, then jumped into the car for the six-hour haul to Washington D.C. to meet up with her Strikers teammates in time for their first game in the WAGS tournament (the Strikers went 3-0 on the weekend). While in the car, she passed the time studying.

"While at times it has been challenging for us, we can honestly say we wouldn't change a thing. It is what parents do when they understand and support their child's commitment to a goal," Joey Thornton said.

Jorden Thornton has never faltered in her commitment to her goal of playing soccer at the next level, her mother said.

"Putting her successes in academics, soccer and orchestra aside, what really makes us the most proud of her is that she is quite simply an all-around great young lady," Karen Thornton said.