By Kirstin Olsen
BROWSE OUR GALLERY: Tiger Classic photos
Thomas Jaeschke, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter for Wheaton Warrenville South, was named MVP after leading the No. 4 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings to the title at the Tiger Classic in Wheaton, Ill.
The Tigers bested the talented field, which included No. 34 Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati, and beat Lincoln-Way East (Frankfort, Ill.) 25-19,25-18 in the final.
Jaeschke finished the weekend with 36 kills, 16 aces, 5 blocks and 24 digs and got a compliment from his coach Bill Schreier, who compared him to Wheaton Warrenville South alum and Olympic gold medalist Sean Rooney.
The Loyola commit, who didn't start playing until his freshman year, has been racking up the accolades this season. In addition to the Tiger Classic MVP, he was named MVP of the Bison Battle and was named an alternate on the U.S. National Youth Team.
ESPNHS caught up with the MVP, who talked about life, volleyball, the Tiger Classic and California vs. Illinois volleyball.
ESPNHS: When did you start playing volleyball?
TJ: I started playing volleyball for my school freshman year, which was my first time ever, and then I started club my sophomore year, which was my first real exposure to the sport.
ESPNHS: Who influenced you?
TJ: In life, my biggest influence is my dad. He grew up very poor and built his life around nothing, paid his way through college and dental school, and built his own successful practice.
ESPNHS: Why did you choose to play volleyball over other sports?
TJ: For one simple reason: Tradition. My school's volleyball program is built around winning, and naturally that was what I gravitated toward.
ESPNHS: What have you accomplished thus far in volleyball?
TJ:I was named to the all-tournament team at junior nationals last year. I have been a three-year varsity player at my high school. I had the most kills last season, and was named captain along with Matt Callaway and Matt Nussbaum this season. Most recently, I was named alternate for the youth national team for my age group. Hopefully my future holds more opportunities for me.
ESPNHS: Why did you choose Loyola of Chicago?
TJ:Because of the team. It's a great group of guys and I cannot wait to be a part of it. Also I am getting some academic money from them, which played a big role. Furthermore, I like how Loyola is so close to Chicago, but when you are on the Lakeshore campus you cannot tell how close to the city you are. The atmosphere is great, and I also really like the coaching staff. It seemed like a great fit.
ESPNHS: What other schools were you considering?
TJ:Princeton, Penn State, UCLA and UC San Diego. Obviously all great schools and to be considered by them is truly an honor.
ESPNHS: How do you feel about your high school team this year?
TJ:We’re just getting there. Our setter (Kit Bruzek) did not play club, but honestly he is doing incredible. He is far more advanced than I had expected, and we have a great coach in Mr. Schreier, who works with him every day and he is becoming one of the better setters around.
ESPNHS: Do you feel like you have something to prove?
TJ: I’m not sure about that, but the taste of sectionals last year is definitely still sour in our mouths. We are not trying to prove anyone wrong, just prove that we are the best in state.
ESPNHS: How do you feel you played at the Tiger Classic?
TJ: The Tiger Classic was a good tournament, and our school hadn’t won it in three or four years, so the win was nice. With that being said, our team definitely is not where we need it to be, and the only way we will get there is working every day at practice. There is only one championship we want.
ESPNHS: How did you feel about earning MVP honors?
TJ: Earning MVP honors was nice, but to me that’s really not what it's about. We won the tournament, and that’s what makes me happy. It's nice winning it, but I think our setter Kit deserved MVP honors. He got all-tourney honors, and that was much deserved. With a team of our size, a kid like Kit can easily go unnoticed, and I'm happy to see him getting some recognition.
ESPNHS: How does it feel to be regarded as the No. 1 team in Illinois right now?
TJ: Being No. 1 is overrated. Everyone is gunning for you, and it's a much different match when they play our team. I think so far our team has handled it very well, and hopefully we can continue to handle it all season.
ESPNHS: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
TJ: To win state.
ESPNHS: What are your goals for college and beyond?
TJ: I would like to make an immediate impact on the Loyola team, and have a vital role on the team for a few solid years. Beyond that, if I can play on a professional club that would be incredible, but that’s very far away.
ESPNHS: How do you feel about the growth of men's volleyball in the U.S. in the past few years?
TJ: I love seeing the growth of men's volleyball. What if there was a professional league in the U.S. in 10 years? I think that would be incredible. People do not realize the caliber of athletes on our national team, and they are now starting to, so that's definitely nice to see.
ESPNHS: California and Illinois have the most boys participating in high school volleyball in the United States. Who would win in an all-state all-star game?
TJ: I think California, just due to their size. Volleyball is big in the Northwest part of Illinois, but beyond that it's not too large. In California the sport is huge all over the state. We wouldn’t roll over; it would be a fun game to play.
ESPNHS: What advice do you have for other young players out there?
TJ: I guess I would just say try your hand in any sport you can. Growing up I played soccer, baseball, football, basketball and golf. I think all this contributed to my success in volleyball. It helped me become a more well-rounded athlete. I guess I would just say do whatever you love most. That's what I did. If at first you're not the best, but you love the sport, then one day, with a lot of work, you can get there.