At age 22, Thomas Jaeschke was the youngest member of the USA Olympic men's volleyball team, which captured a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro.
A year later, the Wheaton native remains a key member of No. 2 ranked Team USA, which will challenge No. 1 Brazil in two USAV Cup international matches at Sears Centre Arena on Friday and Saturday night.
A 6-foot-6 outside hitter, Jaeschke has won state titles at Wheaton Warrenville South and NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015 with the Loyola University Ramblers.
This weekend, though, his USA team, which includes Wheaton St. Francis and Loyola star Jeff Jendryk, a 6-10 middle blocker, has its sights set on beating Brazil, which defeated them earlier this month (25-21, 26-24, 25-21) in a match in Sao Paolo and again two days later in Manaus (25-22, 19-25, 25-11, 16-25 and 15-8).
In this Q&A, with help from USA Volleyball, Jaeschke discusses his team, his international career and this weekend's homecoming.
Q: What is the strength of the U.S. men's team?
Jaeschke: Our resolve. It's been a different year for everyone with a lot of guys and a different team dynamic.
There's been no negativity on the team. We're always trying to move forward, always trying to learn and get better. We've been in some tough spots this summer, and nothing has brought us down emotionally.
Q: What to you enjoy about John Speraw's coaching?
Jaeschke: The analytical side of it is a lot different from anything I've ever had. He is so willing, and because of that we're so willing, to try different things and flip our way of thinking.
We just had a guy who does swing analysis come in last week ... We went on that Navy Seal retreat, which was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It's just another way to shape your mental and physical self. I don't know of any other teams in the world that pushing themselves in other realms so they can get better at volleyball.
Q: What have you been doing since the Olympics?
Jaeschke: I took some time off in the fall after the Olympics. It was really good to decompress. The Olympics was a lot to handle, and it was a dream come true. I went back overseas in December and played in my pro league in Poland, and then I've been playing with the USA Team since May.
Q: What is your favorite memory from the Olympics?
Jaeschke: Winning the bronze medal was the highlight of my volleyball and sports career. That moment we won and when we all stormed the court, and also being on the podium together -- those are moments I'll cherish the rest of my life.
Q: What makes Brazil so good?
Jaeschke: They are just really, really good at what they do. Some of their players are a little unorthodox. Bruno (Rezende) and Lucas (Saatkamp) have a really good connection, and you can't lose sight of Lucas at any time. ... They play really patiently and they don't make many mistakes. They are really disciplined, and they are the No. 1 team for a reason.
Q: How many friends and family will be watching this weekend?
Jaeschke: Friday I have about 40 people coming, and I think Saturday we have 90. That will be really fun. I want to get everyone on the floor and get a picture with my big group. That would be really cool.
Q: What else do you hope to accomplish in your career?
Jaeschke: The Olympic goal is the reclusive one, right? Of the four-year tournaments, it's the one, and obviously it's the gold medal. That's something I definitely want to accomplish. I wasn't part of the team when they won the World League, so that's definitely a goal as well. ...
Another good goal is to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, and give it everything you've got that day. Then regroup and do it all over again. Working hard every day is the goal.
If you go: Tickets ($30-$45) for the USA vs. Brazil men's volleyball matches on Friday and Saturday (7:30 p.m.) are available at www.searscentre.com or at the arena box office, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates.