The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

Freshman Ronnie Schneider embraces expectations

On July 5, North Carolina men’s tennis coach Sam Paul sat on the sidelines as he watched two of his incoming tennis recruits take the court.

Ronnie Schneider and Jack Murray were set to be teammates in Chapel Hill in less than a month, but on that day in Lexington, Ky., the two were adversaries.

Both were competing in the USTA Boys 18 National Open, and both had fought their way to the championship game.

In the same tournament, both had taken to the court together and came away with the doubles crown, but when they met at the net for a second time, they were temporarily no longer teammates.

After two sets, Schneider had taken care of Murray 6-4, 6-2.

Paul said having two of his new recruits battling it out for a championship is always ideal.

“It’s great,” Paul said. “That’s the way you want it to be right? You sit on the sidelines and let those guys go at it. I mean that’s really good.”

Schneider viewed the match a little differently.

“It’s never fun,” he said. “It’s hard playing a teammate so it was a little bit of a strange match, but at the same time it was fun.”

Great expectations

Those championships are just the latest in Schneider’s storied campaign that gives the freshman some of the highest expectations Paul has seen.

But perhaps the person who has the highest expectations of Schneider — according to his coach and teammates at least — is Schneider.

Those expectations manifested themselves in a young high school freshman who realized he had a decision to make.

Schneider chose tennis instead of continuing to play travel baseball and other sports, and hasn’t looked back.

In the summer of 2009, a 14-year old Schneider had just played in three tournaments and his success in them and in match play led him to an epiphany.

“I won all three and I won like 25 matches in a row and I was like ‘Why am I bothering with other stuff?’” Schneider said. “For me, it was great to be well-rounded and everything, but at some point I feel like I had to choose.”

After turning his focus solely to tennis, Schneider immediately saw results. ranked him No. 1 in the country at some point during each of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.

In this year’s ITA preseason poll of all newcomers and freshman singles players, Schneider was ranked No. 5.

‘Goin’ to Carolina’

Four years after making his decision to focus solely on tennis, Schneider was faced with another choice.

The Bloomington, Ind. native received scholarship offers from Duke, Ohio State, Wake Forest, Indiana and North Carolina.

For Schneider, UNC had a crucial combination of academics and athletics that warranted the 640-mile trip to Chapel Hill.

“It kind of checked every box that I was looking for,” he said.

But one week after beginning his freshman year in Chapel Hill, Schneider was back on the road.

After winning the USTA Boys 18 doubles title with Kalamazoo, Mich. high school player Paul Oosterbaan, Schneider and Oosterbaan earned a wild card into the Main Draw of the U.S. Open in New York.

The duo was knocked out in two sets in the first round of the tournament by Brian Baker and Rajeev Ram — both nearly 10 years older than either Schneider or Oosterbaan.

Schneider’s success has impressed his coach, but Paul is very clear on what he thinks those credentials are worth.

“Those rankings right there,” Paul said. “That and $1.25 will get you a cup of coffee.”

Paul said that Schneider’s accomplishments in the junior division and the rankings he has earned are definitely good signs, but what the coach is focused on is how Schneider will rank in the polls at the end of the season and how he will impact his team’s rankings.

And from what he’s seen so far, Paul believes Schneider will be able to aid the Tar Heels early on.

“His competitive spirit, his passion to get better, his dedication, his competitiveness — they’re going to help our team tremendously,” Paul said.

‘He’s just one of the guys’

Even though North Carolina’s formal NCAA season doesn’t start until spring, Schneider has already made an impression on his teammates.

Senior Nelson Vick said that Schneider’s ability to lead by example will provide motivation for UNC’s veterans and newcomers alike.

UNC’s atmosphere doesn’t relegate freshmen to a backseat role, but rather gives them the opportunity to affect their team from the get go.

And Schneider is doing just that.

“Guys that have been in this for longer might be getting a little bit tired,” Vick said. “But when you have a freshman that’s pushing everyone — no one wants to play behind a freshman.”

Despite the intense, all-business workhorse that his coach and teammates advertise Schneider as, the 18-year-old is also touted as unpretentious — something Vick said might not be expected from his level of play.

“He would not strike you as the same guy on the court as he is off the court,” Vick said. “He’s very humble off the court, especially for a guy who just played in the U.S. Open. A lot of times with a guy of his kind of caliber, they might come in and be extremely cocky and think they’re better than everybody else, but he’s just one of the guys.”

It’s not just Schneider’s teammates who feel that way about him.

In 2012, Schneider simultaneously took the singles and doubles crowns at the USTA National Spring Championships while being crowned the winner of the tournament’s sportsmanship award as well.

Although there’s been no shortage of success in Schneider’s junior career, North Carolina’s veterans know based on their experience the transition to collegiate tennis will be difficult.

“Once you hit college, you’re playing guys that could be five, six years older than you,” he said.

“If they were a European that came in as a 21-year-old freshman and is now a 25-year old senior, it’s a pretty big difference when you’re just an 18-year old.”

It won’t be the only difference Schneider faces this year, but the young talent doesn’t have any illusions about what lies ahead.

“You know going in that this is not really any secret,” Schneider said. “You know going in that people are expecting a lot of you. And that’s fine. That’s how I like it.”

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