All four of the Saint Ignatius soccer team's captains are now committed to play collegiate soccer.
Austin Zeleznik has committed to Case Western Reserve University to continue his athletic and academic careers.
The senior selected Case after lots of college visits to schools across the country. In the end, the bright, young student-athlete decided to stay close to home, opting for one of the most well-respected academic institutions in the country with a very good soccer program.
"First off, I wanted a great education. I want to become a doctor," Zeleznik said. "Obviously, Case has a great medical program, one of the best in the country. Their soccer is top ten also, they have a great soccer team."
Zeleznik's journey to this accomplishment begins long before he set foot onto the Saint Ignatius campus at West 30th and Lorain.
Zeleznik grew up in North Royalton, a suburb of 30,000 residents about 19 miles south of Saint Ignatius. As it so happens, the McLaughlin clan resides in neighboring Broadview Heights, just five minutes away. Matthew McLaughlin and Zeleznik happen to be the same age, so Zeleznik became acquainted with the McLaughlins at an early age.
In fact, Zeleznik joined a youth team coached by Wildcats' head coach Mike McLaughlin '85 in the fourth grade. Then a very quiet young man, Zeleznik became fast friends with Matthew and a protege of the elder McLaughlin.
While Austin's older brother, Bryce, decided to stay at North Royalton, Austin took a leap of faith and opted to attend Saint Ignatius. Austin is not Catholic and had no previous connection to Wildcat High.
Zeleznik quickly fell in love with the school. He took advantage of many of the service opportunities offered by the school and expanded his world view.
"I'm going to take away the religious aspect [when I graduate]," Zeleznik said. "I'm not Catholic, and I didn't go to Catholic grade school, but to come to Ignatius and experience the Jesuit education opened my eyes. To go and serve the poor, to go on Labre and on mission trips opened my eyes to the outside world. I'm not in a bubble, I saw what more of what the actual world is like. I'm really thankful for that for coming here."
Along his journey, Zeleznik developed into not only a great young man and a student, but a top-notch soccer player.
Zeleznik spent his freshman year on the JV level, but became a big contributor during his sophomore season. Zeleznik found a starting spot on defense, starting 22 games in his second year with the Wildcats. He also tallied 2 goals and 4 assists in his first season on varsity.
His junior season went even better. Zeleznik logged 1,331 minutes, starting all 22 games. He found the back of the net for 4 goals, adding 8 assists. Zeleznik evolved into a complete player, dangerous all over the field.
"He's a been a defender for his whole time here. Most defenders are wreckers as opposed to creators," Coach McLaughlin explained. "Austin is more of a creator than a wrecker, but it's been fun to watch him learn how to defend and be more physical. With most defenders, you don't expect them to do the things with the ball that Austin does."
Zeleznik's outstanding efforts on the field and as a team leader paid off at the end of last season, when he was named a captain for his senior season.
His excellence in the classroom also made the decision easier. Austin is a star student, with a 3.9 GPA in the classroom.
"Austin embodies what it means to be a student-athlete. It's been a real pleasure to watch him grow as a soccer player, a student, and a young man," McLaughlin said. "He's a great teammate and very coachable. Everywhere we go and everything we do, he helps out. Everybody who meets him is impressed with him as a man and a soccer player."
As Austin began the college process, he sought out a good fit with a school. In particular, he was searching for a college with great academics, solid soccer, and a large campus. His older brother, Bryce, a junior at Heidelberg University studying physical therapy, proved to be a big help in the process. Bryce advised his younger brother to tour a wide range of schools to find the perfect fit.
As it so happens, the best fit for Austin is a school just a hop, skip, and a jump from his stomping grounds at West 30th and Lorain.
The Case Western Reserve University campus appealed to Zeleznik, as did the great academics and soccer.
"It's a Division III school but it's a lot bigger than a typical Division III school. I've toured a lot of Division I schools, and Case was as big as a D1 campus, which is what I was looking for," Zeleznik explained. "When I talked to the coaches, they were very personable to me, and they liked me a lot. They had another Saint Ignatius kid who just graduated, so they wanted me. They have a great athletics center, too. The cool thing about the stadium is that it's surrounded by all of the dorms, so you can look out from your dorm and watch the game."
Coach McLaughlin is excited about the decision and couldn't be prouder of his senior captain.
"Case is an amazing opportunity athletically and academically. You can't ask for much better in the country with that education, it's an incredible academic institution," McLaughlin said. "And they're a top 10 program in the country for Division III soccer. You want to move on to a place that will prepare you for life. The fact that he gets to go to Case and play soccer is a win-win. It's a wonderful honor for him and his family. He's put a lot into his development as a student and athlete, and it's just nice to see him reach this next level."
Before heading to the next level, though, Zeleznik is excited to take advantage of one more year at Wildcat High.
"This is my senior year, so I want to have fun. I took a hard enough schedule to get into Case, but also light enough so that I have some free time and the ability to do extracurriculars with my friends," he said. "Another goal is to win a state and national championship in soccer. I want to enjoy myself in my last year, and take every opportunity I can get."
Zeleznik is a name to watch this year – he's a great young man who will have a big impact on and off the pitch this season.
But before he embarks upon the rest of his journey, Zeleznik wants to thank all of the great people in his life.
"I want to thank my parents – they drove me all across the country and flew with me to so many places," Zeleznik began. "I want to thank Coach McLaughlin. He's been coaching me since fourth grade. He lives 5 minutes away from me, so I've known Matt my whole life and grew up with him. I want to thank him a lot for giving me opportunities and helping me get better.
"I also want to thank my teammates. I play with a lot of kids, and they're all nice to me and help me improve my game. I want to thank my brother a lot, too. He plays college soccer now, and he said he didn't experience full enough soccer, and he wished he could have played D1, but he's happy with where he is. He guided my way towards Case and helped me get all of my options out there."