Q & A with RJ Wickham '12, Men's Lacrosse Goalie
RJ Wickham badly wishes he and the rest of his Navy teammates were still playing lacrosse this month in the NCAA tournament. But Wickham will never forget the way the Midshipmen played their last game and finished the 2012 season with a 6-6 record. On April 21, Navy stunned visiting, 10th-ranked Johns Hopkins, 8-2, thanks largely to Wickham, the senior goalie who capped a great career by tying his season-high with 18 saves against the Blue Jays. Wickham, who is about to be commissioned a surface warfare officer, will graduate ranked sixth in school history with 479 saves and is part of the first senior class to beat Hopkins twice since 1964. Writer Gary Lambrecht recently chatted with the native of Penn Yan, NY.
Q: As you have had time to reflect on that special day against Hopkins, has the victory, and your prominent role in it, sunk in?
A: It’s still pretty fresh. I’ve gotten so many congratulations from classmates, professors and underclassmen. It was a great way for the seniors to go out. As a goalie, you can see the whole field, and it was an amazing team effort to watch. I also probably played one of my best games ever. That was awesome.
Q: It looked as if you were in one of those “zones” where a player finds himself at times. What’s it like to be in such a place?
A: First of all, the defense as a whole was unbelievable. We were swarming [Hopkins] and beating them to ground balls all day. We were making them take shots we wanted them to take and, let’s face it Hopkins was just off that day. They were taking 14-yard shots they normally don’t take. That made it easy on me at times. But, as a goalie, you have those days when you’re saying to yourself, ‘Man, I’m seeing beach balls today.’ There was some of that going on, too.
Q: Was it a bittersweet day for you, since beating Hopkins wasn’t good enough to get into the NCAA tournament or even the Patriot League tournament?
A: Yeah, the Army thing [losing to the Black Knights four straight times dating to 2011] is going to haunt me a little bit. It stinks. So does missing the playoffs again. But beating Hopkins twice in my career is pretty special. It’s been so long since that happened to a group of players around here. I’d rather have my last game be bittersweet than just bitter. At least we got to go out with a bang by beating a top ten team on our field in front of our fans.
Q: As a kid growing up in upstate New York, were you attracted to lacrosse early on?
A: I was a baseball player first and a huge Red Sox fan. I dreamed about playing in the major leagues. We used to go to games at Fenway Park. When I was in sixth grade, some of my friends at Penn Yan [Academy, near Geneva, N.Y.] egged me on to try lacrosse, and it was OK. Then I tried it again in eighth grade, and I loved how fast and fun the game was, and how you could hit people. I also realized lacrosse was much bigger than baseball at school. By the time I was a freshman at Penn Yan, I was a goalie playing varsity lacrosse. I guess the rest is history.
Q: What did your parents think of your decision, especially your preference for getting hard rubber balls hurled at you at high speeds?
A: My mom and dad have always been huge supporters. But they had no idea what I was getting into. I remember playing goalie in eighth grade. I can still hear my Mom saying, “Look at your [badly bruised] shins! You’ve got to wear some pads!” She made me wear STX shin guards. I caught a lot of crap for that. I remember the varsity lacrosse players laughing at me. The shin guards came off after that.
Q: Are there any especially painful shots you’ve absorbed while minding the net?
A: I hardly ever feel them in games. In a game, I want to get hit by a ball. Practice, now that’s a different story. I remember in my freshman year [at Navy] I took one in the forearm, and my entire arm turned into a big bruise. Bicep shots are the worst. Last year, I took one in the bicep in practice, and it was shaped downward like a negative bicep. It was deformed. It looked like a cup for about three weeks. Fortunately, it came back to normal.
Q: Goalies are not normal, though, are they?
A: No, we’re a little crazy. To play goalie, I think you have to have a couple of screws loose.
Q: Your lacrosse career is over. You’re about to graduate and become a surface warfare officer. How wild is that kind of change to contemplate?
A: This is the big picture. The Navy is so huge and diverse, and everyone brings a different flavor to the table. I’m excited to get out there on a ship and lead some sailors. I think it’s going to be pretty incredible and rewarding.