By Turner Walston
Pickering, Ontario native Brayden Schnur enrolled in January and immediately began playing #1 singles for the Tar Heels. Typically, a student-athlete who enrolls in January (in football, for example) has come to Carolina after graduating high school early. But not Schnur, who finished high school in Ontario last June and then began playing tennis in Futures tournaments.
Schnur accepted no money, retaining his amateur status while playing among the best young tennis players from around the world. Schnur was ranked as high as 26th in the junior world rankings, was the singles champion at the Canada F5 Futures and 2013 Canadian Open Junior Championships and also competed in the Junior U.S. Open, Junior Australian Open, Junior French Open and Junior Wimbledon. He's on the path to making a living as a professional tennis player. So why play college tennis?
"I just felt like mentally and physically, I had to mature," Schnur said last week. "I really wasn't strong enough day in and day out to compete at such a level. I felt like if I came to college and gave myself time, I'd be able to focus on getting bigger, mentally stronger and physically getting tough, that my chances when I'm older are going to be a lot better to go up in the rankings a lot faster."
Former Tar Heel Jose Hernandez helped initiate contact between Schnur and the Carolina coaching staff. "I was really interested, because I knew him really well, and he said what a great school it was, academics and athletics are amazing, top in the country, and I figured North Carolina was a warm place, so I was obviously interested in coming here to play tennis," he said. "As soon as I got here, I met the coaches and saw the facilities and I met the team, I fell in love with it. I knew this was going to be the place to continue my training."
Schnur's coming to Carolina has been mutually beneficial to the team and the individual. He is part of a loaded freshman class that has helped Carolina to a ranking of 12th nationally as of last weekend, and Schnur himself is ranked 19th in singles with a record of 9-0. In those nine complete matches, he has dropped just one set. On Friday, Carolina lost 4-1 at No. 1 Ohio State, but Schnur led No. 9 Peter Kobelt 7-6 (8-6), 5-6 when the Buckeyes clinched the match.
Coming in as a freshman and playing No. 1 singles does not afford Schnur any special treatment, however. He'd scheduled an interview for last Wednesday ahead of the team's trip to Columbus. After warm-ups, he began to run off the court. "Tell him you'll have to re-schedule," Tar Heel head coach Sam Paul said to Schnur. "You're playing doubles." Two days later, Schnur and freshman classmate Ronnie Schneider prevailed in their match with Ohio State's Herkko Pollanen and Hunter Callahan.
Schnur said there is more quality depth in professional tennis than in college, at least early in his career. Some schools have better tennis programs than others, whereas on the tour, everyone is playing for his own career. "I have to stay focused. I have to give everything I have to win, and it's definitely not a breeze," Schnur said. "I'm sure there are some guys that are going to push me even harder coming up, and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
He himself has had to adjust from playing tennis all day, every day to balancing athletics, and academics. "I was thinking tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis, and now I have to think about school, also," he said.
The last two and a half years of his high school education were completed online, so Schnur has had to get used to classroom learning again as well. He's not sure about his major just yet but enjoying learning from live instructors. "Maybe if a teacher were to teach me, I would engage myself a little more, I'd be interested in a subject as opposed to just reading off a screen," he said. "I'm just going to give myself the opportunity to just take a bunch of classes different classes, test everything out, and then pick (a major) from there."
There's also the social aspect of being a college student. Schnur said he has been welcomed to campus and has already engaged in at least one time-honored ritual for Carolina students. "Rushing Franklin Street the other day was just out of this world," he said. "That probably was one of the best nights I've ever had in my life. It was an unbelievable feeling just to be a part of that and feel like, 'Yeah, you know what? I am a normal student.'"
Over at Cone-Kenfield, Schnur is enjoying playing with a team, a group of individuals wearing the same colors and reaching for a common goal. "It's unbelievable. It's almost exactly like Davis Cup," he said. Schnur has said some of his favorite tournaments were when he played with a team, like at the Summer Canada Games (where he led Team Ontario to a gold medal). "To be able to do that for the next four years in a team atmosphere is unbelievable," he said. "There's a lot more energy, the team's focused, they pump you up, and it's nice to have someone on the sideline that you know you can count on to get you through matches and support you all the way."Carolina returns to Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center on Monday, March 10 for matches against Texas and Longwood at noon and 6 p.m., respectively.