2020 Women's History Month: Melissa Schaub, Ohio State
As we celebrate Women's History Month, USTA.com spotlights some of the female coaches who are making history of their own as the latest generation of sporting trendsetters, serving to inspire more females to enter the coaching corps at the NCAA level and beyond.
After a decorated playing career at Tennessee, which included a No. 2 national doubles ranking, Melissa Schaub quickly transitioned into coaching, following a family tradition. A five-year stint at Middle Tennessee, by the end of which she was head coach, led to a homecoming for the Lexington, Ohio, native, when she joined Ohio State as an assistant in 2011.
Schaub was named the Buckeyes’ interim head coach for the 2012-13 campaign, then claimed the role on a permanent basis following that season. Now in her eighth year at the helm, Schaub has led her team to six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including a semifinal run in 2017 and a quarterfinal berth in 2016. The Buckeyes also won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in 2016 and 2017 under her leadership.
This season, Schaub has the Buckeyes ranked No. 10 in the latest Tennis Channel/USTA College Tennis Top 25 poll, a ranking that will likely rise after a College MatchDay victory over No. 6 Florida State on the first day of Women’s History Month.
USTA.com spoke with Schaub about her career progression and tennis' position at the forefront of women’s sports.
USTA.com: After you wrapped up your playing career and graduated from Tennessee, you went straight to coaching at Middle Tennessee. Was that planned, to go straight into coaching? How did that come about?
Melissa Schaub: Yeah, it was actually. I kind of almost knew before I even went to college as a player. My dad actually is a coach—he runs a club up here in Ohio—and my brother [Ty Schaub] is a college coach at South Carolina right now, and my cousins are in college coaching. We’re a very big tennis family. I just grew up thinking it was such a great sport, and I knew I wanted to stay in it.
And I just thought that the college environment, the college lifestyle was a fun thing to be a part of. Talking to my parents and my college coach, as well, just kind of led right into that. My coach in college played at Middle Tennessee and when I was a senior, he had good things to say about it. One of my old teammates was the head coach there, and it all worked out.
USTA.com: So you spent five years at Middle Tennessee, eventually becoming head coach, and then you went straight to Ohio State?
Melissa Schaub: I’m from Ohio. Everyone is still up here, so it was sort of a dream job for me. Chuck Merzbacher was the head coach at the time, and I talked to him quite a bit, and I ended up here. It’s been seven or eight years, but it’s gone fast.
USTA.com: When you made that move, of course it was a step up in terms of the program, going to Ohio State... but at the same time you were giving up the title of head coach and everything that goes with that. I’m curious what went into your thought process as you were making that move and how you felt it would impact your career.
Melissa Schaub: It was actually a tough call. I talked to a lot of people; I leaned on a lot of veteran coaches that had been doing it for a long time. For me, being from Ohio, and for my family, Ohio State was something that I could never turn down, the chance to come home. That’s something that really means a lot to me, to be able to coach for my home state in a way, and the school that represents that. It meant a lot to me.
Obviously, it was a tough call because of the relationships you have with your current players and things like that. It’s tough to leave, and I love Middle Tennessee. But yeah, when I had those conversations with Ohio State, I thought it was an opportunity, a chance to come and hopefully stay for a while if it works out. I felt like I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.
USTA.com: Can you take me through your progression at Ohio State, from assistant coach to interim head coach to head coach, and how you worked your way up?
Melissa Schaub: I was only the assistant for one year. The head coach left and took another job, and luckily they decided to keep me on as the interim for one year. We didn’t actually have... they can keep telling me it’s not about the wins and losses and stuff, and they did, but you still have that feeling of, "OK, we have to perform," right?
But I had a really good group of players and kids, and they were awesome, and they worked hard. Then we lost, I think, three or four seniors that year, so the next recruiting class we brought in, we had four freshmen, which was my first kind of full-time year.
It was a chance to do your own thing and see what you’re made of, and luckily we had a good group, and they got to build on the strong tradition that was before them. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve been blessed to have good student-athletes who want to work hard and want to compete for their school and each other. I feel super lucky to be able to be in the position that I’m in.
USTA.com: Is there a particular moment that stands out from your coaching career as a best memory? I know it’s always tough to pick one or two.
Melissa Schaub: That’s a good question. You have all these little milestones; we talk about it with the team. In the first year, we beat Tennessee. They were ranked in the 20s maybe at the time, and I remember we had the four freshmen, and that was a really big win for them. That was like a win where they felt like, “OK, we belong. We can be pretty good.”
And then two years later, we made it to National Indoors, and we upset Vanderbilt, who was, I think, No. 1 at the time. We lost the doubles point, comes to the last match… we win, 4-3. That’s probably something that you’ll never forget because that was the moment of like, “All right, we're here, we can do this.” That same year, we won the conference championship, and to get to see the team excited and celebrate with each other… those are things you’ll never forget.
I will say that I think this match here this year at Oklahoma State was a cool thing to be a part of, as well. Coming down to Shiori [Fukuda] and winning the last match.
I don’t know… college tennis is fun, it’s exciting. There’s all sorts of moments.
USTA.com: On the opposite end, what is the hardest part of the job, the grind of being a head coach and all that it entails?
Melissa Schaub: I think that you can’t let the big moments—the moments we're talking about right now—you can’t let those moments get too high, and you can’t let the low ones get too low. On top of those great moments, you also have some crushing losses that can crush you.
We all get in this job and you get a little bit of a high from these big moments, but you also have to find a way, for those tough moments, to also get through and not let them become too big. Try to keep it about the relationships, keep it about the people. That’s why we’re in it. And as long as you have the people that you want to go battle with… I think I’m really lucky to have the job that I have.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s not stress. Our job is still 18 to 21, 22-year-olds, and with that comes a lot of things. Just trying to manage it all and make sure everyone has a good experience and they play hard every day.
USTA.com: Looking generally at tennis as a sport, it seems to be at the forefront of having women involved as coaches, whether it's on the pro tour or in college. Do you agree with that sentiment, from your perspective? How important is it in the larger scope of sports, in general, and even for society, to see that happening?
Melissa Schaub: I think it’s really important. As far as women’s tennis being on the forefront, I hope so. That would be great, right?
I think it has to be something that you [girls and young women] see. And I think it probably even needs to start at the younger ages of tennis. When you go recruit, I don’t see a ton of female coaches. And when you do, it’s great. But a lot of times when you get into college, I might be the first time that someone has had a female coach.
I think it needs to start when people are younger, but I do think that college tennis, as far as any other group I believe in tennis, college tennis does have the highest percentage of women coaches coaching women. I think it’s important. I think it’s good for our athletes to see, for young girls to see that it’s a good profession to get into. It’s a topic that needs to keep being discussed, for sure.
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