BW Senior Goalie Russ Mika is a Catalyst to the Jackets’ Current Winning Ways
BEREA, OHIO -- On September 15, 2007 at the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Shootout at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, then Baldwin Wallace University sophomore Russ Mika (Medina/ Senior) stepped in as the Yellow Jacket starting goalkeeper.
With the position still up for grabs, Mika knew he had to step his game up a few notches in order to win the job over the previous year’s starter in goal, then senior Alex Stavros ‘08. Also standing in his way was an excellent Calvin (Mich.) College team that utilized its big forwards to bash the ball in the box.
“My future soccer career was in my hands that game and I wasn’t about to let it go,” recalls Mika.
And in his first start as a collegiate goalkeeper, Mika was nearly flawless. As Calvin’s forwards bashed the ball towards the net, Mika went and got the ball almost every time, and in the process getting his legs cut out from under him on a number of occasions.
“That was a very physical match,” recalled current senior sweeper Nate Smith (Ashland/ Senior). “Russ played very well for his first start. He did what you ask all goalies to do, give us a chance to score and win the match.”
But with less than 15 minutes left in the contest, Calvin scored off a free kick and subsequent lucky deflection and won the contest, 1-0. Mika, however, had eight saves and more importantly, the starting job. He finished that season by playing in 17 contests and covering more than 1,538 minutes of action and allowed 1.23 goals per game with four individual shutouts.
“I knew I was capable of contributing at the collegiate level and this was my opportunity to prove it,” Mika remembers. “I was playing the best soccer I had ever played and the coaches took notice.”
Mika records a key save in BW's
1-0 win at Mount Union on October 3.
“Russ earned the starting job that day and hasn’t relinquished it after almost three seasons,” said eighth-year Head Coach Reid Ayers, the winningest men’s soccer coach in school history. “Russ is a very technically sound goalkeeper with above average athleticism. All of the players feed off of his determined yet calm attitude.”
A year ago, Mika earned the starting job outright and had another strong campaign, appearing in 12 matches and covering more than 1072 minutes and allowing 1.34 goals per match with a pair of shutouts.
BW’s players and coaches are not the only ones taking notice of Mika’s skills now.
“Russ’ talent and ability is no longer a secret in the OAC,” said Smith, who joins Mika as one of six Yellow Jacket seniors playing their final two OAC regular season matches this week. “Our opponents know that we have a tough goalie and that makes a difference in how we are viewed as a team. It is important to have a strong goalie, and Russ provides that strength for us.”
This season, the senior has led the Yellow Jackets to a 10-6-1 overall and 5-1-1 OAC record prior to playing an OAC match at Cleveland cross-town rival John Carroll University at 4:00 p.m. on October 28.
Most recently, and after an 0-5 start to the 2009 campaign, Mika has helped BW to a 10-1-1 mark in its last 12 matches and was named as the OAC’s Men’s Soccer Player of the Week on October 12. Not bad for a double major in finance and marketing with a 3.68 grade point average who has started all 15 games and allowed just 0.95 goals per game with 49 saves and six individual and eight total shutouts.
A team captain and a 2008 ESPN THE MAGAZINE Academic All-District IV player, Mika is the perfect specimen for a goalie. Blessed with 6-foot and 4-inch height and a 36-inch vertical jump, Mika intimidates defenders and can swat away any shot.
“I am the last line of defense and I have always feed off that pressure,” says Mika, who sees the whole field and anticipates the defense’s next move.
“Recognizing what adjustments need to be made and communicating that adjustment to the entire team all while playing a physical game is incredibly difficult and unlike any other sport,” asserts Mika. “It’s the reason I love it; it’s the ultimate problem solving situation.”
As the Yellow Jackets continue their tear through the OAC and road to a conference championship, Mika will play a pivotal role in their success.
Coach Ayers believes his team is in good hands.
“Russ really worked hard in the off-season,” said Ayers. “If he keeps performing at this level, I think the team is going to continue to do well.”
“We need to play well against both John Carroll and Wilmington if we hope to host a few games in next week’s OAC Tournament,” said Smith. “With Russ in goal, we have an advantage. Now, we have to go out and play well and let the chips fall where they may.”
Following its game at JCU, BW ends the 2009 regular season on Saturday, Oct. 31 with an OAC dual match at Wilmington College at 7:30 p.m. The Yellow Jackets then open OAC Tournament play the week of Nov. 2-7.
With two wins (at JCU and at Wilmington) and “a little help from its friends in the OAC”, BW could finish second and earn a first round bye on Tuesday, Nov. 2 and open at home in the semifinals on Nov. 4 at 7:00 p.m. Without the help, BW wuld open at home on Nov. 2 at 7:00 p.m. against a yet-to-be-announced opponent. For more information regarding the 2009 OAC Men’s Soccer Tournament, please visit the OAC web site at www.oac.org.