Jeffrey Schorsch, Valparaiso
Brian Ormiston | December 12, 2017
Right in the heart of Big Ten and Notre Dame country, one high school tennis player found a home at the small Division I school of Valparaiso University. From 2013-17, this small Northwest Indiana campus started to breed a special product.
When Jeffrey Schorsch stepped on the courts as a Crusader for the first time, little did he know where Valpo would carry him. The native of Perrysburg, Ohio, took over the Horizon League. He posted a school-record 111 career singles victories and became the first player in league history to win Player of the Year honors outright in three consecutive seasons. He also teamed with four-year doubles partner Charlie Emhardt to win exactly 100 matches together.
Under the tutelage of longtime head coach Jim Daugherty, Schorsch blossomed, and he carried that confidence into his post-college tennis. ADVERTISEMENT He gave the USTA Pro Circuit a try in 2016 and qualified for the main draw at the Futures event in Decatur without dropping a set in three matches. Although he failed to earn a ranking point, that soon changed in 2017.
Schorsch not only qualified for the Champaign Futures earlier this year, he reached the quarterfinals to grab three points. The following week, again in Champaign, he battled into the semifinals. Chalk up eight more points to his tally.
The lefty jumped into the ATP Top 900 in December, a huge feat considering he was unranked in early July.
At the beginning of the 2017 offseason, Schorsch offered some insight into his collegiate career and his memorable year after turning pro.
USTA.com: What was it like growing up and playing tennis in Northwest Ohio?
Jeffrey Schorsch: Northwest Ohio is definitely an interesting place for tennis. I don't think anyone considers it a mecca of tennis in the Midwest, but the good thing about it is there are very passionate coaches who want to develop players for college tennis. I had a roller coaster of a junior career in terms of how much I enjoyed the sport, but it was these coaches who set me straight in high school and allowed me to cultivate a passion for college tennis.
Growing up there led to fewer opportunities than players from Chicago or Indianapolis in terms of tournaments and training. However, the opportunities that the area did provide allowed me to be humble and grateful for my upbringing.
USTA.com: What was the biggest challenge you faced going from high school to college tennis?
Jeffrey Schorsch: I had to realize that every ounce of my energy spent on the court was to represent my school and the team. I was no longer accountable for just myself. The way I trained, played or conducted myself on and off the court reflected on the team.
The second challenge was realizing the competitive nature of college tennis. You have to get used to every point feeling like a break point. The nature of college tennis combines high-level competition with a high-stakes team scenario, which creates a high-pressure environment. I had to realize quickly that this makes or breaks a player in the moment, and that moment is what a college athlete in any sport should live for.
USTA.com: Is there anything you wish you had known about the college recruiting process before going through it?
Jeffrey Schorsch: I was lucky. I focused my sights on smaller schools, which was a preference of mine, and it made the process a little smoother because it felt more personal. Tennis has an unusually high transfer rate in comparison to other college sports. I stayed for four years at Valparaiso. However, I know tons of players who have changed schools. I wish I would have looked passed the bells and whistles that coaches and players present to me when they sell the program. This is a normal technique. However, a lot of players, including myself, create unrealistic expectations of a school based on its selling point. I wished I could have viewed programs for what they were instead of what I wanted them to be. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this until their first semester on campus.
USTA.com: How long did it take to mesh with the coaches and players when you first started at Valparaiso?
Jeffrey Schorsch: It was almost immediately. I loved the coaches, but it was the team that made the difference. What I loved about my team, and the reason I chose Valpo, is that we were family. And this was not a transition period; we were this way from Day 1.
I attribute this to the Valpo culture being a small school and all. All the athletes knew each other personally, and all the teams were close. My team, for example, used to do everything together since we were a young squad my freshman year. We filled our time off the court playing Xbox in adjacent dorm rooms, collectively going to 6 a.m. lifting, participating in study tables and eating all together at what we called family dinners. The older guys did a great job taking the younger guys under their wings and introducing them to a social atmosphere and making them feel welcome. When I became the older guy on the team, I tried to do the same. The result was a close-knit team of brothers, rather than just teammates. Ultimately, this is what I believe every recruit should look for.
USTA.com: How would you describe the impact your team and playing collegiate tennis has had on you as an individual?
Jeffrey Schorsch: I really transitioned as an athlete since my first days at Valpo. My coaches challenged me to be better than I thought I could be. My teammates relied on me to fight in the moments they needed me. These qualities are difficult to cultivate yourself. For the first time, I had a support system of people that needed me, and it pushed me to higher levels. I'm not going to lie, playing pro tennis has been lonely at times because I no longer have that direct support system. However, there is not a day that goes by where I don't thank my teammates and coaches for pushing me to reach this level, and for that I am grateful.
USTA.com: What is your favorite college tennis memory?
Jeffrey Schorsch: There are two. The first was winning the conference tournament. Before my class arrived, Valpo had never won the Horizon League tournament. My freshman year we won the first round but lost the second. My sophomore year we lost in the finals. At that point we could taste it. There was nothing we wanted more. Finally, we won it my junior year, and it was one of the greatest feelings of my life because at that moment we realized that every drop of blood, sweat and tears the last three years had been for that very moment. It had finally paid off.
The second was Charlie Emhardt and I in our run at the ITA National Indoor tournament. We were a wild-card doubles pick for the tournament, yet we beat two Top 10 teams along the way before falling in the finals to the best team in the country. Afterward, I remember a coach came up to us and said, "I have never heard of your school before today, but I sure won't forget about Valpo now." That statement made me tear up because it was one of the reasons I chose Valpo in the first place. I wanted to represent the small school, the underdog. I am extremely thankful for those opportunities.
USTA.com: Describe the difference between playing college tennis and playing at a professional level.
Jeffrey Schorsch: Like I had mentioned before, the lack of a team support system can be lonely on and off the court. Physically, it is much more grueling. Tournaments are back to back and not necessarily near each other, which means most of the time you are either training, competing or traveling. As any athlete knows, all three can be grueling on the body.
I have experienced more time off and rehab for injuries in the last six months than all four years of college. You have to take better care of your body and realize there is no such thing as a day off. If you take a day off of hitting, you still need to condition, lift, stretch, etc. If you stop doing those things for even a day, you can lose your timing and get tight which limits mobility and causes injury. These are things I could get away with in college. I had to learn the hard way.
USTA.com: Where do you want to be a year from now, and what steps are you taking to get there?
Jeffrey Schorsch: I am extremely happy with how I started my pro career. It takes players many months to get their first points and some players a couple years to acquire enough to make main draw of Futures automatically. I did well enough in my first two tournaments to make the main draw the rest of the year. I am currently 890 in the world and hope to be seeded in the main draw by this time next year. This would mean reaching Top 500 in the world.
I just started my offseason, and I will take this time to train for the upcoming year. The steps I am taking are an overall change in my habits. Tendonitis has severely limited the strength training I can do for my lower body, so I am exploring better alternatives to squatting. I am creating a nutritional guide to improve my diet to foster healthy weight gain and muscle growth as well as recovery. Lastly, I am working on finding a base where I can train consistently with some of the best players in the world. This has been absent in my tennis training the last several years. I think these changes can help propel me to where I want to be by the end of 2018.
USTA.com: Do you have any advice for young players who want to play college tennis with future aspirations to go pro?
Jeffrey Schorsch: Enjoy college. Make sure you take advantage of the social, academic and athletic opportunities presented to you, wherever you may end up. I am where I am today not because of tennis alone. You have to learn to balance your time wisely, to enjoy tennis in such a unique atmosphere, find other things that interest you outside of tennis, to make lifelong relationships and learn to handle what life may throw at you. All of these things have allowed me to transition to professional tennis smoothly, but more importantly, it helped me to become the person I am today.
College is not all about tennis, and I had to realize that. When I did, that's when I really began to enjoy the game again.