With Olympics in view, Wheaton native Jaeschke goes pro in Poland
Walking down the streets of Krakow, Poland, with his USA Volleyball teammates, Thomas Jaeschke happily posed for photos with fans.
"They treated us like celebrities," Jaeschke said. "A lot of the older guys didn't like it, but as a 21-year-old I thought it was funny that people would ask for pictures with me. I still feel like I'm still just some kid from Wheaton."
He may have been "just some kid" when he first picked up a volleyball as a freshman at Wheaton Warrenville South years ago, but much has changed for the 6-foot-6, 185-pound outside hitter since then.
The trip to Poland for the World League with the U.S. National Team in early July was a preview of the next step in his career: playing professionally with Asseco Resovia, a Polish member of the Champions League and one of the top teams in Europe.
To go pro in Poland, Jaeschke decided to skip his senior season at Loyola, where he already has won two NCAA championships and national player of the year honors.
His contract with Asseco Resovia allows him to go back to school and take classes during the fall of 2016. Playing professionally this fall and next spring will help him prepare for a chance to make the 2016 Olympic team.
"The Olympics is my ultimate goal. That's the reason I'm doing all this," Jaeschke said. "I had pretty much gotten everything out of college volleyball that I could.
"If I stayed in school and didn't make it to the Olympics, I would have always wondered if I would have made it had I gone pro. This way, at least I'll know that I did all I could to get there."
This year is Jaeschke's first with the U.S. National Team. He likely will begin his career in Poland after playing for the United States in the Olympic-qualifying World Cup in Japan from Sept. 8-23.
"There's so much more physicality and intelligence that's required at the international level than there is in college," Jaeschke said. "I've gotten a lot more physical. I'm still skinny, but you should've seen me in high school."
At Wheaton and Loyola, Jaeschke was a leader on the court and in the locker room. Now with the National Team -- and with Asseco Resovia in the fall -- he's getting used to being a rookie again.
"I haven't really been in that role since I started playing volleyball early in high school," Jaeschke said. "You have guys like Matt Anderson and Reid Priddy (USA teammates) pulling you aside and saying, 'here's what you need to be doing, here's what you're doing well.'
"It had taken me awhile to earn some trust from these guys, but now it's cool to know that they respect me."
Though not his first time playing internationally, Jaeschke said the distance from his hometown will make the transition to Asseco Resovia challenging.
After all, Rzeszow, Poland, is 4,812 miles from Wheaton. Loyola University was just 35.
"I'm kind of nervous for everything. I've never lived in a foreign country," Jaeschke said. "That was something holding me back in the beginning, having to move so far from everyone I love, but I want to play in the Olympics and I know that there are going to be some sacrifices made."
His friends and family have all been supportive of the move, with a few tears shed here and there, Jaeschke said.
"When I did finally decide to go pro, one of my best friends, (Loyola teammate) Trevor Novotny, told me his mom was crying because she was so happy for me. She's like a second mom to me," Jaeschke said. "After I heard that I texted my mom to ask how she was handling everything. She called me and she was crying."
The money is another part of professional play that will take some adjustment, Jaeschke said. Not that he's complaining.
"If you show up late to practice, you get fined. If you wear the wrong gear, you get fined," Jaeschke said. "Whereas at the college level, if I was late to practice I would have to get on the line and run some sprints -- more of a physical punishment than a monetary punishment.
"Getting paid to play volleyball is just funny to me, but it's definitely going to be fun to have some spending money."
Jaeschke's highlightsHigh school: As a senior and team captain in 2012, Jaeschke led Wheaton Warrenville South to a 42-0 record, earning a state and national title. His 97 aces that season rank third on the IHSA all-time list. He was also named Chicago Area Player of the Year and captain of the Daily Herald All Area Team.
College: In his first season at Loyola, he started 31 contests and was named MIVA Freshman of the Year.
NCAA titles: In 2014 and 2015, he led the Ramblers to two consecutive NCAA titles. He was named MIVA Player of the Year both years, and as a junior earned AVCA National Player of the Year honors.
International: The two-time all-American is the first Loyola player to play for the U.S. National Team. He competed in the Champion Cup and World League this year. The Americans took home bronze in the World League championships in Rio de Janeiro in July.
The quote: "I still consider both national championships in college to be the best moments of my life," Jaeschke said. "The Loyola coaches have been a huge part of who I've become as a player, and I expect big things from my best friends from school."