Three years, hundreds of matches, and countless hours of practice led to one historic week for Valparaiso University men’s tennis doubles players Jeffrey Schorsch and Charlie Emhardt.
The senior duo knocked off Cal’s Filip Bergevi and Florian Lakat 7-5, 4-6, 1-0 (11-9) at the USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in Flushing, N.Y., on Nov. 3. In the process, they took out the top seed in the tournament and upstaged the No. 2 doubles team in the nation. They also became the first players in program history to qualify.
“We were down 8-9, Cal was serving, and the entire match we struggled on returns,” Schorsch said. “I knew Charlie was returning. I was not nervous at all because the amount of times he’s slapped a return on big points is unbelievable. I believed he was going to make that return, there was no doubt in my mind.”
Emhardt did make the return, marking a match-defining moment within a career-defining match.
“It’s funny because after the match he said he was a little worried about that return,” Schorsch said. “I was pumped, but I wasn’t surprised. That was the point when we realized we had nothing to worry about.”
The epic win was prefaced by a first-round triumph against Denver. After the unforgettable upset of Cal, the wins just kept coming. Emhardt and Schorsch knocked off the No. 7 team in the country, Columbia’s Richard Pham and Victor Pham, and topped Ole Miss’ Fabian Fallert and Grey Hamilton. They finished the weekend as the national runners-up, falling to Wake Forest in the final.
Throughout the week, the wild card duo from Valparaiso built up a following in New York. Their story won over many who started the event as neutral observers and ended it as Valpo supporters.
“Strangers were becoming fans of those two,” Head Coach Jim Daugherty said. “That’s an element that no one who wasn’t present there would really understand. There was a wave of people that were all the sudden Valpo fans. Not only were they supportive and enjoyed watching them play, but they said they’re going to follow us on our website throughout our season. We really created a new fan base there.”
Emhardt and Schorsch received a wild card entry into the national championship after losing to Michigan’s Jathan Malik and Kevin Wong in the ITA Midwest Regional championship.
“I was ready to jump through the roof when I found out they qualified,” Daugherty said. “I looked through the email and I saw the at-large went to Notre Dame, and my heart sank. But then I kept reading and saw they were a wild card. I was jumping up and down by myself in my office.”
The disappointed of losing in the regional final was quickly followed by the excitement of receiving the wild card berth to New York.
“We felt a rollercoaster of emotions for 48 hours,” Emhardt said. “We were devastated about the loss (to Michigan). We definitely knew we were capable of playing in New York. We knew it was possible. Once they reached out to us, it was very exciting.”
The improbable run allowed Emhardt and Schorsch to prove they belong on the big stage. It was the culmination of years of hard work from two players who have been teamed with one another since their freshman seasons.
“The chemistry was always there,” Schorsch said. “We always seemed to click, even if we weren’t the best doubles players when we started out. I considered myself a terrible doubles player at first, but eased into it during the spring of my freshman year. My biggest weaknesses were my soft serve and I couldn’t return. Now, those are my two biggest strengths on the doubles court.”
The two hold the rare distinction of playing together from their freshman year on, building a rapport unmatched by the competition. They’ve shattered Valparaiso’s doubles career wins record, in the process cementing their legacy among the most dynamic of Crusader duos.
“The body of work during our first three years helped us earn that wild card spot,” Emhardt said. “People could see the transition of two guys who were both talented in their own way morph into a team. We’ve come so far since our freshman year, and the biggest culmination of that was being able to play in New York.”
The success of Emhardt and Schorsch on the doubles court has contributed to a turnaround of the Valpo men’s tennis program over the last four years. They helped their team win its first Horizon League title and advance to the NCAA Tournament last season.
“The first two years, we were here to change the program,” Schorsch said. “Last year, we won the conference, which was our first goal. Now, I’m looking at our team as Top 25. If our players commit and believe how good we can be, the sky is the limit.”