Jessie Tschida: From Orange Ball
To Division I Tennis
For Fred Wells junior player Jessie Tschida, it has been a long journey.
Stepping on the court eight years ago, Tschida would have never imagined she would become the first player in the history of The Fort to go from orange ball to earning a Division I tennis scholarships when she signed her letter of intent with St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., last week.
Admittedly not passionate about the sport at the start, it was in seventh or eighth grade when the now senior at Holy Angels Academy realized that she could be “pretty good” at tennis and committed herself to the game.
“My first days at The Fort, I was not good,” the extremely modest Tschida said. “It took a long time for me to build up my confidence, and wasn’t until last year that I finally felt I developed into a good player both mentally and physically.”
Her first days at Fred Wells consisted of playing with the orange ball as part of the new Red, Orange, Green progression pathway introduced by the United States Tennis Association. Long used in Europe, and endorsed by tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the new method for teaching beginning players was adopted stateside as kids used modified equipment in order to develop sound technique at a young age. Slowly but surely, Tschida graduated from orange ball to green ball for what she felt was “the longest time in my life,” but now understands why.
“It was a long journey, but looking back it was definitely worth it as my technique is one of my greatest strengths,” Tschida said. “It was hard because there is this perception that if you play with a yellow ball, you are better than those who play with orange or green. For parents and other kids out there, I remind them that it really does not matter what color ball you hit as long as you are hitting it correctly.”
Starting to see the pieces fall into place, the results soon followed through her Junior Team Tennis and USTA Junior Tournament play. With each success, Tschida’s focus turned to playing Division I tennis, but she did not know how to get there.
Enter long-time Fort coach Nguyen Vo, the reigning USTA Northern Pro of the Year, who has been with Jessie since those early days of orange ball. Vo knew Tschida was one of the most competitive players he had ever coached and knew she had tremendous upside, but she needed to believe in herself. To do this, he took her to tournaments in Chicago, Florida and California hoping to show her that no matter where they traveled, she was just as talented as the player on the other side of the net. He also wanted to remind her that the process was a marathon and not a sprint.
“It is amazing to see Jessie become The Fort’s very first player to progress from orange ball to Division I tennis,” Vo said. “Not just from a coach’s technical standpoint, but from that of a mentor - watching her grow, commit to the hard work, stay focused on her dream and most importantly, truly believe in herself.”
“Nguyen is always telling me I am better than I think I am and that I should not be intimidated by my opponents,” Tschida said. “He also makes me challenge myself by doing difficult things, which I hate, but now I see how they are paying off years later.”
The payoff was signing her letter of intent to play Division I tennis at St. Francis where she hopes to major in entrepreneurship and journalism. She has always loved New York and the big city and cannot wait for her next adventure.
“I am excited, but also very nervous. It is going to be an adjustment with practices five days a week – sometimes twice a day – and having a new coach. Add schoolwork on top of that and it is definitely going to be challenging, but this is exactly what I wanted.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Tschida will be not having Vo there on a daily basis, although she is trying not to think about that. Often times seeing Vo more than her own parents, Tschida recognizes the impact he has had on her life both on and off the court.
“Nguyen is always giving me something to think about. He reminds me how to act, to always be polite and just be a better person. It will be different, but I am sure we will Facetime a lot.”
She also cannot believe that her time at The Fort is quickly coming to an end.
“The Fort is home to me. Some of my best friends are those who I met that first day 8 years ago. There are so many diverse backgrounds here, helping cultivate who you are and allowing you to grow as a person. That diversity is what keeps me coming back each day. I keep telling people to cherish your time at The Fort while it lasts because it will go a lot faster than you think.”