MERCEDES — One by one, each coach took their turn at the microphone.
Exemplary student, great attitude and behavior, work ethic, commitment. All those words come to mind when the coaches described a star high school student-athlete.
But it just never seemed enough to describe the magnitude of what she has done. For four years, Mercedes High School athletics have been blessed to have such a rare student-athlete in Mika Vento. For those same number of years, the reality that she would one day be moving on was pushed to the side; there was still time. This moment was a bit surreal — it was just a few months ago that the girl who “was almost this tall in first grade,” according to principal Orlando Rodriguez, was a budding freshman, wasn’t it?
No, that was years ago, when there was still time. There’s little time now.
“I’m glad I have her for one more year,” third-year Mercedes softball coach Kristy Leal said. Softball starts in the spring. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Of course she is. All Mika did last year was compile a 0.746 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 65.2 innings pitched. She hit .338 with five home runs, three triples and 26 RBIs. Defensively, she had just two errors in 67 chances. Who wouldn’t want a little more time with an athlete like that on their team?
On Thursday, in front of what Mika described as her support system of classmates, friends, coaches, family and more, the senior signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball at Division I Sam Houston State.
“I feel very excited, and have mixed emotions,” she said. “It feels overwhelming to know that everything I’ve done over these past years has finally paid off and it’s a result I can physically see.”
Mika is a household name throughout Mercedes and beyond. At a convenience store in the city, when I asked a couple of people if they knew of a Mika, the response was the same: “that girl at Mercedes? The one who plays all those sports?” There was no need for another name or more explanation. All that was needed was simply Mika, just Mika.
All-district in softball. All-district in volleyball. District champion in track. Cheerleader, pageant winner — she shows goats, she liked to draw (when she was “young”), she’s active at church, and she has a smile that will light up the darkest room and the coldest gyms (like Mercedes).
But don’t let that smile fool you; don’t mistake her kindness for weakness. Mika is anything but weak. In one basketball game against a district foe, play got rough as the opposing team showed a little more physical aggression that many would say crossed that invisible line in sportsmanship. Mika’s smile remained, and why not? After that line was crossed, she dominated the remainder of the game. There was no talking back, there was no pouting. It was just time to raise the intensity even higher. Certainly there wasn’t any weakness.
“She exemplifies what a student-athlete is,” Mercedes athletic director Roger Adame II said. “The only thing she doesn’t have is a lot of spare time. I have a daughter who is in eighth grade and looks up to her; she wants to fall into some of her footsteps and sees the commitment it takes. She does everything the right way. She never complains. She’s goal-oriented and centered and she knew exactly what she wanted and she went after that.
“And I guess she had to have slept a little bit, too. In what little spare time she has.”
Mika had a plan and stuck to it. Like Adame said, she knew what she wanted and went after it. Mika, however, is — and always has been — quick to admit that the decisions weren’t always 100% with her.
“I think the recruiting process was the toughest thing, knowing that I had to wait,” the RGVSports.com 2018 All Valley Sports Awards Sub-5A Female Athlete of the Year said. “It wasn’t my choice to wait but I was waiting to see what God had in store for me.”
This is who Mika is — she’s so much more than just an athlete or a student. She’s a person with a caring heart, a loving and supportive family, an intense soul and a young lady with an unsurpassed passion and desire to do everything at the highest possible level.
I was exposed to Mika when she was a freshman. I watched her in every sport (I think she may have even snuck on a football helmet for a game or two but couldn’t get Adame to ever confirm), and even had the privilege of having her on a team I coached for a tournament. I remember telling her as a freshman that I would be there, God-willing, on her signing day.
God willed it and during much of the time at her celebration, I thought something along these lines — I wish there was more time, too.
Mika, it was four years of a job (of many jobs) very well done. We expect the same will happen at the next level.
Henry Miller is sports editor at The Monitor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org