Thomas Jaeschke in VNL action against Japan upon his return from an ACL injury
Lausanne, Switzerland, July 6, 2019 – A bronze medallist at the 2016 Olympic Games, Thomas Jaeschke is really excited about Chicago hosting the Men’s Finals of the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Not just because it is his country, but also because it is the city he grew up in.
The 1.98m-tall 25-year-old athlete returned to the court a year after suffering a knee injury in USA’s first home match in the 2018 VNL, in Hoffman Estates on June 21, and helped defeat Japan in straight sets. He also played a full match the following weekend in Plovdiv and feels confident that he will be in good shape for the Finals in Chicago.
What are your thoughts on USA’s performance in the VNL so far?
Thomas Jaeschke: It’s been an interesting VNL for us, because we know we’re hosting. We’ve had a couple of injuries here and there, myself included, so we’ve been swinging guys in and out, which is nice to have the luxury to do. But we’re still finding our groove. To get two wins last weekend was good for us, especially against Iran who have been playing super well. To end it like this is really good for us. The VNL has been interesting, especially for me, because I’m coming back from an ACL injury and I’m doing my best to help the team.
Given that you probably need some game time now, you only played one match in Hoffman Estates and one in Plovdiv. Why is that?
Thomas Jaeschke: It’s a number of things. Especially with the big injury, you can’t go in a match and then just play in another match right away. It’s important to not press it and feel really good and comfortable out there, before I go two in a row. Potentially in the finals I may have to go for four days in a row and play multiple matches. I am taking it conservatively as opposed to kind of overdoing it.
So are you happy with your own performance in the couple of matches you’ve played and with the way the recovery is going?
Thomas Jaeschke: I’m happy and I’m not. You have to understand as a player that it’s a process and you’re not going to be perfect. Right now I am not going to be where I was before the injury. I’m working on doing things I can control, putting my knee and my body in good spots and working hard outside the court, so when I do go on the court I feel good. It’s a battle, I would say, more mentally than physically, feeling good out there and just letting myself play and not think... That’s the biggest thing. It’s just kind of releasing yourself back onto the team, back onto the court. That’s what I’m working on right now and the guys have been helping me a lot, so it’s been good.
Do you think you have enough time to be in good shape for the Finals?
Thomas Jaeschke: Yes. I’m going to do everything I can and put myself in the best position. I am confident, so let’s see where we are in Chicago.
With so much variation in the US team, do you think the coach will be able to find enough cohesion within a core set of players, who will take over during the finals?
Thomas Jaeschke: Yes, there’s a group of guys that have been around a long time and they just know how to play. We can be away from each other for a long time and we just find our way back and things feel normal again. I’m not worried about those guys.
How excited are you about the United States hosting the finals of such a big event?
Thomas Jaeschke: I’m really excited! I grew up in Chicago. That’s where I’m from originally. I have family there… It’ll be interesting because I don’t remember if we have ever hosted the finals of a big volleyball tournament, besides the Olympics. It’ll be really, really fun. It will be interesting to see the crowd, because Poland qualified and Chicago has one of the biggest Polish populations in the world, after Warsaw. Iran also travels really well and there are a lot of Iranians in Chicago I believe. It will be interesting to see how we feel, because when we play against Poland around Chicago it feels like an away match, with 10 thousand Polish people cheering and singing the Polish national anthem. So we’re like, ‘we’re in Chicago, right?’
Thomas Jaeschke and his teammates pay tribute to the national anthem in front of the home crowd in Hoffman Estates
In terms of goals, should we mention anything else, but gold?
Thomas Jaeschke: I think the first goal is to win that first match, then to make it out of that pool, and kind of go from there. So we’ll take it one match at a time. That’s the biggest thing, and not that you start thinking, ‘oh, we have to win the gold medal!’
You were on the team that won bronze at the last Olympics. Was that the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Thomas Jaeschke: For sure, that was the highest point of my volleyball career - the hard work we put in going into that, the group of guys we had… It was pretty special in the way it all happened, especially in that Russia match (for the third place). Reid Priddy who had been a great outside hitter for a really long time, in his final match as a professional indoor player, came in, and after we are down 2-0 to Russia, he just killed it. To be part of that group and get an Olympic medal is something that can never be taken away.
Imagine you are outside spiker on your own dream team. Who would be the other six players?
Thomas Jaeschke: Oh, that’s a tough one! Wilfredo Leon would be the outside. Lloy Ball is a great setter from America, who won a gold medal. I never played with him, but I’ll take him as the setter. In the middle, Dmitriy Muserskiy would be one, for sure. I’ve played with David Lee; he’s a great middle to play with, a really good read blocker. For opposite, I’d take Clayton Stanley. Brazilian libero Sergio Santos is just a timeless player. For him to come back and win that gold medal in 2016 was cool.