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Sports

Thomas Jaeschke latest Wheaton Warrenville South grad to play Olympic volleyball

Jaeschke, a 2012 graduate, goes for gold when Olympics begin with opening ceremony on Aug. 5

Thomas Jaeschke is doing his best to make sure history repeats itself.

The 2012 Wheaton Warrenville South graduate became the second volleyball player from his school to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Jaeschke, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter, is playing for the USA men’s volleyball team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. He is following a path blazed by Sean Rooney, who played in the 2008 and 2012 games.

“I don’t think it was a long-time dream because when you’re a kid and watching the Olympics on TV you know they’re the best players in the world,” Jaeschke said of playing in the Olympics. “You don’t think you can be one of them.”

But Jaeschke, 22, didn’t have to look far to find a role model.

Rooney led WWS to its first state title as a senior in 2001 as the Tigers went undefeated. From there he went to Pepperdine, which he led to the NCAA title in 2005.

A 6-9 outside hitter, Rooney helped the U.S. win the 2008 gold medal in Beijing, just weeks before Jaeschke entered high school.

“He was kind of a guy I looked up to in high school,” Jaeschke said. “I know all that stuff – that he won a state title, a national title and an Olympic gold medal – and I wanted to do all that.”

Jaeschke has come eerily close to doing so. Like Rooney, he led the Tigers to an undefeated season as senior in 2012, capturing the program’s most recent state championship.

Like Rooney, he starred in college, propelling Loyola to back-to-back national crowns in 2014 and 2015.

Then Jaeschke did something unusual, leaving Loyola after his junior season to play professionally in Poland.

“I’d done everything I could do in college,” Jaeschke said. “The next logical step was to turn pro.”

By then he already was on the national team and started thinking about an Olympic trip to Rio.

“I never thought it was possible until I joined the national team after my sophomore year,” Jaeschke said. “Then I got some playing time and thought, ‘Hey, if the coaches think this much of me to give me an opportunity, maybe I can think about making the Olympic team.’ That put it in my head.”

But Jaeschke, who departed for Rio on July 30, tried not to get too far ahead of himself.

“I’ve had some injuries the last couple years, so I don’t like counting my chickens before they hatch,” he said. “I’m really excited but I want to get on the plane before I relax.”

Jaeschke made the team despite suffering two major injuries. In 2014, he missed five months following surgery on a fractured right foot, and last year he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right fibula.

“That was really frustrating,” Jaeschke said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs the past couple years, but I’m happy that I’m healthy.”

Jaeschke is the youngest member of the 12-man U.S. team, but he is expecting to see action in the Olympic tournament.

“My role is to be one of the first guys off the bench,” Jaeschke said. “We have a really deep team, so we can start a variety of lineups.

“I could see myself starting one of the matches, but I don’t consider myself a starter at this point.”

The 12-team Olympic tournament consists of two, six-team pools. The U.S., which finished fifth at the 2012 London Games, opens against Canada and is in a pool that also includes top-ranked Brazil, France, Italy and Mexico. Match play starts Aug. 7 after the opening ceremony Aug. 5.

“The goal is a gold medal,” Jaeschke said. “There’s no point in playing if that’s not your goal.”

Jaeschke first picked up that attitude at WWS, which has won seven state titles.

“The secret is it teaches you a different mentality,” Jaeschke said. “My senior year was a really good group of guys and the coach [Bill Schreier] was intense.

“I wasn’t friendly with the guys on the other side of the net. There were a lot of times when it got intense and we were snarling across the net.

“That environment taught me to push myself and get my competitive edge.”

When to watch

Who: U.S. men’s volleyball

What: 2016 Rio Olympics tournament:

TV: NBC networks

Pool play matches: 3:05 p.m. CST Aug. 7 vs. Canada; 1 p.m. Aug. 9 vs. Italy; 8:35 p.m. Aug. 11 vs. Brazil; 3:05 p.m. Aug. 13 vs. France; 9:35 a.m. Aug. 15 vs. Mexico

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