Jan. 23, 2015
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- After weighing his options in the summer and fall, senior Nik Scholtz decided to return to Ole Miss for his senior season, putting off his professional career until after the season. He had a successful summer and fall playing ITF Futures and Challengers, but Ole Miss and Oxford called him back for one final run.
"I have spoken about my love for this place, and I realized that all I have left to give back to Oxford is one more season, one more semester, and I couldn't think of a better way to give back for everything they have done for me," Scholtz said. "That's what it came down to. I feel so honored to give back to the school, and I want to do that for as long as I can."
"I had a feeling that Nik was going to come back," head coach Toby Hansson said. "He's a very loyal person. He loves Ole Miss. He has a lot of good friends and support here. Obviously, I was extremely happy and relieved that he decided to come back to play his final year with us. It's very exciting."
From June to December, Scholtz played in 12 singles tournaments and six doubles tournaments, winning three singles titles and combining with former Ole Miss standout and fellow South African Tucker Vorster for three doubles titles. He rose as high as No. 443 in the ITF singles rankings and No. 591 in the ITF doubles rankings. The decision to return to Ole Miss or begin his professional career, Scholtz said, was something he always thought about, whether he was on tour or coming back to visit Oxford.
"Some days, I thought about what I was going to do, and then I would speak to someone, and they would tell me what I should do," Scholtz said. "Everyone in the tennis world told me that I was crazy to go back to college and told me I was in a great position and to keep playing. They don't understand. Most of them didn't play college tennis. At the end of the day, the decision came from the heart."
The reigning SEC Player of the Year and a three-time All-American, Scholtz made his decision official, announcing the news via Twitter on Jan. 7, a tweet that received an overwhelming response from fans with 165 retweets and 452 favorites.
"That was pretty cool," said Scholtz of announcing his decision on social media. "I was riding in the car with my mom, and we were on the way to our vacation. I told her that it was time I make it official. I had been thinking about it for a couple of days before. When I did it, it immediately felt like I did the right thing, especially with the way people reacted. The love I got was amazing."
In making his decision, Scholtz felt a loyalty to his teammates, coaches and Ole Miss, saying he did not want people to say, `Man, if we had Nik for one more year,' but at the same time, he never felt pressured by those same people to return for his senior season.
"When the time came close to making a final decision, I spoke to a lot of them, and they all told me the same thing, `You have done so well, whatever you decide, we all respect your decision, and we want you do well,'" Scholtz said. "I had a lot of support from them. I never felt any pressure from them. That meant a lot to me. That showed a lot of respect from my teammates, coaches, the people here, and my family. They all left it up to me, and that was great."
The opportunity to put an exclamation mark on his college career also brought Scholtz back for his senior season. One of his biggest goals this season, he said, is to win a national championship, whether it's team or individual, but he also wants to become the first four-time All-American and the first two-time SEC Player of the Year in program history. Scholtz, a fifth-year senior, having redshirted his freshman season, also wanted to complete his last six hours and earn his degree in general studies.
"Time flies, and before you know it, you're 30, and you have been playing professionally or doing something else in your life, and you never got the chance to finish your degree," Scholtz said. "It's something I wanted to do. I believe that when you start something, you have to finish it. That's something that no one will ever be able to take away from me."
Graduation ceremonies are set for Saturday, May 9, the same weekend as the NCAA 1st and 2nd Rounds, with the NCAA Final 16 and Individual Championships later that month. From there, Scholtz said, he may take a week off, and then he'll start playing full-time. He's going to enjoy his last semester as a student-athlete, but also prepare for the next phase of his tennis career.
"One of my goals this spring is to be in the best physical shape when I leave here," Scholtz said. "When I start playing professionally, I want to know that my body is going to hold up. I want to start climbing. I want to hit the scene, like John Isner (played four years at Georgia), and take some names and move up the rankings quickly. I want to do the best I can for me, the team, and the school, but I also want to be in the best shape physically, mentally, emotionally and, obviously, playing-wise, too."
"You saw the last spring he was here," Hansson said. "He played 30-plus matches in four months. He went 11-1 in conference play and was SEC Player of the Year. He grew on the court as the season went on, and you saw it in the summer. He started off really hot and kept the momentum going. For him, it's important to stay focused and keep working hard. I'm looking for him to do something similar to what he did this summer and use this as a stepping stone to develop his game for the next level."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller