When someone is an up-and-coming athlete, in an up-and-coming sport, opportunity tends to knock when they least expect it.
Loyola University volleyball player Thomas Jaeschke recently discovered how fast things can move after winning a national championship.
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"Last Saturday, the phone rang," Jaeschke said. "John Speraw, the coach of the national team called. He says 'How fast can you get out here?' "I said a few days. Then he says 'how about tomorrow?'"
Jaeschke got off the phone and told his parents, John and Danielle, the news. He asked them what he should do. He says they told him to follow his dreams.
"You don't even have a choice. This is your dream," they told him. "It wouldn't be wouldn't be fair to yourself if you don't do this."
The next thing Jaeschke knew, he was on a plane to Anaheim, Calif., to train with the men's national volleyball team.
Jaeschke, a Wheaton native, has accomplished quite a bit since picking up a volleyball during his freshman year at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. During his senior year at WWS, the team rolled to a 42-0 record en route to a state title and a mythical national title.
He was also named one of Volleyball Magazine's "Fab 50" seniors.
Jaeschke says he was encouraged by a friend who was already on the team to pick up the sport.
"I was on the track team. That's a spring sport as well," he said. "One of my friends was on the volleyball team and he said I should tryout. I liked it and the rest is history."
Wheaton Warrenville South volleyball coach Bill Schreier said the transition was a smooth one for Jaeschke.
"Thomas came in as a freshman who never played volleyball before. He kind of took to volleyball right away," he said. "Sophomore year, he was on varsity. I started to see some things that reminded me of another player who came through here, Sean Rooney."
Rooney, a current member of the men's national volleyball team, was a standout at Wheaton Warrenville South who also led the Tigers to a state title in 2001.
Schreier says he sees some similarities in Jaeschke.
"I thought he was one of the best leaders to come through our program," Schreier said. "I see the same thing when I see him on the court. It's just a bigger arena now. It is still the same guy doing the same stuff."
Despite the personal and team achievements Jaeschke accomplished at WWS, he was not heavily recruited.
"I was a late bloomer. I didn't get a ton of looks."
Jaeschke was all set to attend Penn State until Loyola coach Shane Davis ran into Jaeschke's mother at the airport.
"I went on an official visit to Penn State and I pretty much had a foot in the door. I was planning on going there," Jaeschke said. "My mom ran into Shane at the airport. She saw that he was wearing some Loyola stuff and she asked if he was a player. That's how the communication started."
Loyola men's volleyball coach Shane Davis remembers when he first saw Jaeschke play.
"He was a junior in high school playing club for Sports Performance," Davis said. "He had that long and lanky look. He looked like he hadn't grown into his body yet."
He also noticed how Thomas played the game.
"His volleyball I.Q. He identified situations really well as a young player," Davis said. "You don't see that often. There was huge potential there. We had to get on him and get on him early."
Next, Jaeschke made an official visit to Loyola, and he felt good about what he saw.
"I really liked it. I liked the group of guys. I felt like I could fit in well," he said. "Loyola was a better decision for me."
After Jaeschke decided to attend Loyola, Davis says that he had an immediate impact.
"He was a factor right away in the fall. He grew leaps and bounds. We didn't think he would come along that quickly."
Jaeschke made the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association's (MIVA) All-Conference Team, along with being named the conference's freshman of the year.
Earlier this month, he helped the Ramblers win the national championship, which was the school's first NCAA title since the men's basketball team in 1963.
Jaeschke had 13 points and tied for second on the team with 12 kills in the championship game against Stanford.
Currently, Jaeschke is in California training with the men's national team, and he says he is learning as much as he can.
"They work hard. They like winning. That's good to have in the gym," Jaeschke says. "There's a lot of competition. It's gets chippy sometimes."
He also sought out Sean Rooney for advice while training with the national team.
"He's been really good at helping me out. It's hard coming into this environment," Jaeschke said. "I didn't really know anyone. He talks to me about non-volleyball stuff."
Overall, Jaeschke says he is treated well despite not being one of the star players.
"I'm definitely the lowest guy on the totem pole but generally they don't treat me like that," he said. "I'm looking to define myself out here. It's a work in progress."
He also finds time to think about the business of defending a national championship.
"We lose two guys. I think we will be OK next year," he said. "We should have a great group next year."
Coach Davis expects Thomas to one of the leaders on next year's team.
"He's a highly respected athlete on our team. He's not only a great athlete, he is also a great student," Davis said. "That's how he's able to lead on and off the court. Guys respected the fact he came in and worked really hard. He put the work in and the results came."