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Wekiva Softball Program Names 2011 Alumna Niaja Griffin as Head Coach 1/20/2017

For the first time in Wekiva High School’s 10-year history, a Mustang alum is returning as a head coach: Niaja Griffin, who graduated in 2011, will take the helm of the softball program.

An Apopka native, Griffin was a member of the first “thoroughbred” Mustang class that matriculated the year the school opened in 2007. She was an all-star athlete for the Mustangs, although ironically she never played softball at Wekiva. Instead, she is better-known at the school for becoming a three-time state weightlifting champion and a member of the Mustangs’ 4 x 100-meter relay team in 2010 that took home a state title in track.

Griffin’s softball skills were honed as a switch-hitting middle infielder and outfielder for Tampa’s South Florida Mini-Bulls travel program. Meanwhile, she enhanced her strength and speed by participating in the Mustang weightlifting and track programs. She was so talented that the University of Georgia offered her a softball scholarship when she was just a sophomore.

Griffin had been looking forward to rejoining her former Apopka Little League teammates in Mustang softball during her senior year, but her high school athletic career was cut short by an injury. Fortunately she was back to full strength in time to start as a Bulldog.

Griffin is impressed with the growth of Wekiva’s athletic program in the time since she graduated. During her time at Wekiva, the relative newness of the school may have deterred many would-be student-athletes. But she says that since then, “Wekiva has made a name for itself,” and students are proud to count themselves as Mustangs. What she says hasn’t changed, though, is the competitiveness found in each of the athletes.

As for her time at Wekiva, Griffin notes that one of the most important lessons she took away is that “it’s not how you start—it’s how you finish.” In her first season as the school opened, the Mustangs may not have been the best at any sport, but “by 2011, everyone knew Wekiva, and the classes after us carried it on.”

The coaching job at Wekiva will be Griffin’s first as the formal head coach of a program, but she served as a graduate assistant softball coach at UGA during her fifth year there and helped the team to a Women’s College World Series appearance. The timing of her return could not be better for the Mustangs—just as longtime coach Brian Gary departed to return to his hometown in Louisiana, Griffin returned to her own hometown to provide some much-needed continuity at Wekiva.

As she takes over the program, Griffin will draw on her Division I experience from UGA, from hitting and defense to game preparation and studying opponents. Griffin says that not only will she draw on her university-honed skills, she will also channel the influence of all of her past coaches from middle school to college.

Griffin takes over a program that is on a positive trend, picking up the most wins in school history in spite of one of its youngest-ever rosters that featured just one senior last year. In spite of their relative recent success, though, the Mustangs are still looking for their first .500 season, a goal that Griffin aims not only to achieve but to surpass. “It’s going to take us backtracking and focusing on the fundamentals of the game. It’s going to take us working as a team to meet a common goal. And it’s going to take the girls and the parents to trust me as a coach. I know I’m young, but I’ve been in this sport longer than most of the girls have been alive, and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience in that time.”

In particular, Griffin wants to focus on defense to make sure the Mustangs remain in close, competitive games, even against perennial district powerhouses, and bring excitement to games that will draw new fans to the sport. She did not have had the benefit of working with the players in the offseason and is only just beginning to discover their individual strengths in the ramp-up to opening day; however, she is excited by the hard work and dedication she has seen so far and believes that great things are coming.

“Softball is a fun sport to watch, and I’m not just talking about seeing bombs being hit or plays being made. At UGA, we interacted with the crowd, we gave them a show to watch within a show, and I plan on bringing that to the program. There’s nothing worse than a boring softball game, and winning or losing, Wekiva will not have a boring game.”

As for the particulars of her strategy, though, Griffin says, “I need to win a couple of state championships before I reveal my secrets.”

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On the Schedule

1/23/2017 VB Soccer District Semifinal (@ West Orange)
1/24/2017 6:00 pm JVB Basketball Lake Nona
1/24/2017 6:00 pm JVG Basketball @ Jones
1/24/2017 7:30 pm VB Basketball Lake Nona
1/24/2017 7:30 pm VG Basketball @ Jones
1/25/2017 B Water Polo Lyman Invitational (@ Lyman)
1/25/2017 G Water Polo Lyman Invitational (@ Lyman)
1/25/2017 5:00 pm VG Wrestling Apopka, Freedom, Lake Brantley
1/25/2017 5:00 pm JVB Wrestling Apopka, Freedom, Lake Brantley
1/26/2017 6:00 pm JVG Basketball Freedom

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