Jan. 27, 2015
Eric Schnurrenberger raced along the baseline to unleash a vicious shot that snuck into the corner of his opponent's forehand court during Sunday's ITA Kick-Off Championship showdown against Columbia's Ashok Narayana.
Schnurrenberger, a junior who plays No. 4 singles for the University of Notre Dame men's tennis team, thrust a fist into the air after blasting the winner in the second set, hollered, “Go Irish,” and shouted encouragement to his Fighting Irish teammates who were locked in intense battles on the Eck Tennis Pavilion courts. The moment belonged to his teammates, not himself.
Columbia edged Notre Dame 4-2 in a contest that saw all six singles matches go to third sets and two of the doubles matches go to tiebreakers.
Schnurrenberger came out on the short end of a 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 score on Sunday, but he was long on passion and enthusiasm for his teammates.
On Saturday, Schnurrenberger put Notre Dame into Sunday's championship by winning the clinching point in a 4-3 victory against Oklahoma State. He defeated Tristan Meraut 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6) to snap a 3-3 tie and advance the Irish.
“You talk about a tough match,” Irish head coach Ryan Sachire said of Schnurrenberger's grinding victory. “We're up 3-0. We lost three straight matches. Momentum is against us.
“Eric had the fortitude internally to come through, to block out the momentum that Oklahoma State had. The kid he was playing against had an unbelievable match going, and Eric withstood that and came out on top. That's a credit to who he is as a person, how he lives his life, how he practices and what he puts into his tennis every single day.”
Schnurrenberger's selflessness and high-decibel support of his Notre Dame teammates are departures from the tennis he knew in his native Switzerland. European tennis has more of an individual orientation, and tennis at the club level where Schnurrenberger was a youth champion was played without spirited crowds.
“Coming from Europe, tennis was always considered the sport where the fans are quiet . . . the noble sport,” Schnurrenberger said. “Here, it's the opposite. People can yell . . . it's a soccer-stadium atmosphere a little bit. It's certainly different.
“There is club tennis in Switzerland and there is team spirit, but it's not that intense as in the U.S. That's what makes college tennis very interesting for me. There's nothing really comparable.”
Sachire said Schnurrenberger's ability to adapt to the U.S. collegiate game has been remarkable.
“This is an environment where you have to experience it to really know if someone is going to thrive in it,” Sachire said. “From my experience, the kids who are buttoned up, squared away, consistent every day like Eric is, in terms of who he is, are usually able to handle the stress and pressure the best. They don't get rattled. There aren't the highs and lows. They're the same person every day. That's what they're used to. So when they find themselves in moments like Eric did against Oklahoma State, he's able to navigate it because he's the same guy every day.
“College tennis is such a different animal compared to what anybody played growing up, American or foreign,” Sachire said. “It's a pretty intense environment. Some people love it and some people shrink from it. He's a guy who loves it. He's embraced it and he couldn't be more valuable to our team.”
Josh Hagar, Notre Dame's No. 2 singles player, said Schnurrenberger had to adjust to the distractions a noisy crowd can bring to an NCAA tennis match. He said Schnurrenberger has learned to turn cheering from teammates and the home Irish crowd into positive energy he takes advantage of on the court.
“I think, playing right beside him, Eric does a great job of embracing and enjoying the atmosphere college tennis has,” Hagar said. “When it's a tight match on the line and it's hectic, guys either bring their best out or they kind of crumble. Eric is definitely one of the guys who brings his best out.
“There's an adjustment period to dealing with distractions, and then there's a noise where you can feel the support. I think those are two very different things. When you're on the court and it's tight, you can feel the support of all of your teammates. That's something really special that college tennis really brings out. A lot of guys step into that and really feel great about that. Eric's done a really great job with that. He's definitely enjoying it.”
Schnurrenberger loved the roar from his teammates and the Irish fans when he nailed a service winner on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
“It was a great crowd,” Schnurrenberger said. “I was pretty nervous at that point. It was awesome to win. I think the crowd certainly played a big role in that win, to help me in that last tie-breaker.”
Tennis was one of the reasons Schnurrenberger chose Notre Dame.
“I wanted to combine tennis and studying at the same time,” Schnurrenberger said. “It was only possible if I did that in the U.S. I also wanted to move away from home and get some new life experiences.
“I was expecting something different, so I was not shocked or anything by the environment. It's great. People look at me like I'm a crazy guy. It's a different work, but it's great to have the experience here.”
Sachire said Schnurrenberger has contributed greatly to the Irish program.
“I love Eric Schnurrenberger,” Sachire said. “The kid is awesome. He's really mature for his age. His ability to be consistent as a person, from day to day, is off the charts. He works his tail off every single day. He's committed, he has the right habits, he's a great student … he's on the ball. He's that way every single day. He's just a good role model and example for the rest of our team to try to emulate. He's going to be a winner in every thing he chooses to do in life. I'm really happy he's playing for us and not against us.
“To be the only international kid on a college team, to be half a world away from where he grew up and his family, and to be as successful as he's been and, more importantly, to do things the right way, the way he does them, is a true credit to him,” Sachire continued.
“He's one of the legends in our program.”
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent