By Kim Ling Associate Director, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Nik Scholtz grew up on a farm in the small town of Caledon, South Africa an entire continent away from where he presently resides as the No. 1 player for the Rebel tennis team and one of the top collegiate players in the nation.
As a freshman in 2012, Scholtz helped lead the Rebels to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and became the first player in the history of the program to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors. In addition, he reached the NCAA Elite Eight in singles. Last year, the two-time All-American helped the Rebels to their 10th SEC West title and also reached the NCAA Final Four in doubles.
That’s a pretty good start to a career, but Scholtz wants more.
“Freshman year was definitely better than I imagined, but sophomore year I was looking to do a little better, especially at the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I am not happy with just making quarterfinals or top 16; I want to win the NCAA Championship for me, for the school and the people who support us.”
Scholtz’ path to the top of the collegiate tennis world began as a kid running around his family’s farm.
“We have a dairy farm, and we also have orchards with nine varieties of apples and two types of pears. As far as my farming goes, I had a couple of birds and some dogs, Scholtz described with laughter. Mostly it was my dad (Calla) who farmed. I saw it as a massive playground where I could run around and play sports.”
Scholtz dabbled in all sports growing up including tennis, rugby, cricket, track and golf. His dad is one of the most famous athletes in South Africa. As a rugby player, his dad was selected as the MVP of the league and led his team (Western Province) to the championship. Scholtz settled on tennis.
“I played them all growing up, but my dad kind of pushed me towards tennis,” Scholtz said. “He didn’t want people to judge me based on his results, plus he had a really bad knee injury when he was playing rugby. There is a lot of contact in rugby, and you don’t have protection like you do in football.”
Scholtz enjoyed an outstanding junior career, which took him all around the globe including playing in all four grand slams and earning a career-high junior ranking of No. 22 in the world. He had the opportunity to turn pro right away, but Scholtz decided to attend college to get an education and further develop his game.
“Your career is long enough to be able to spend the early years in college to get an education as well as develop your tennis. It gives you a chance to grow spiritually and intellectually as well as physically, as a person. You don’t want to come back to school when you’re 30 years old and your career is over. I knew I would not want to do that. I’ve always wanted to get an education. I want to have that degree beside my name. I definitely made the right decision.”
Recruited by all the top schools, Scholtz settled on Ole Miss before ever stepping foot in Oxford.
“I met assistant coach Toby Hansson at Junior Wimbledon and was very impressed. Devin Britton, who had just won the NCAAs for Ole Miss, was playing in the tournament and dominating. A month later I met Coach (Billy) Chadwick at the US Open, and there Devin played Roger Federer on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Ole Miss did the best job of staying in touch with me through my senior year of high school and leading me towards college instead of turning pro.”
Anyone who plays a sport knows that injuries are part of the game, and Scholtz experienced some adversity last year. The two-time All-SEC first teamer was a having a great year before he injured his arm midway through the conference schedule.
“It was tough, because we knew we couldn’t afford to have anyone out of the lineup, not just me, but any of our top six,” Scholtz said. “It’s tough to lose matches you should be winning because of elements that are beyond your control.”
Scholtz, who began this year ranked No. 7 in the nation, says his arm has never felt better, and he is focused on helping the team go far in 2014. With four of the top six returning, Scholtz believes the team is capable of achieving a high level of success.
“At least Sweet Sixteen, we’re that good,” he said. “We proved we were a good team last year when we beat Georgia and Tennessee, but we were inconsistent. Some of it was due to injuries. We need to be more consistent this year and stronger at every position.”
Personally, Scholtz has high aspirations for himself. “One of my goals is to be ranked No.1 in the country. I want to qualify for the National Indoor in New York and maybe make a run in the tournament. When the team season starts, I want to go undefeated in the SEC. I don’t know if anyone has done it at No. 1, but it’s obviously tougher, because you play the best players each time out. Also, I want to stay healthy. Those goals can’t be accomplished if you’re not on the court.”
Scholtz doesn’t spend all his time on the courts. He recorded a 3.5 grade point average last spring to help the Rebels be one of only two teams to end the year ranked inside the top 10 and earn the prestigious ITA All-Academic Team Award, which requires a minimum 3.2 GPA.
He also finds time to attend another one of his favorite sports, basketball. If he is not traveling with tennis, Scholtz goes to all the games, especially since his roommate, Will Norman, is a member of the basketball team.
It’s that kind of camaraderie among all the sports, the community and the university that Scholtz loves so much about life in Oxford.
“This is a great place, I just feel so at home here,” Scholtz said. “The people are so nice; it’s like one big family. We all support each other and try to help each other. It’s one big community that tries to bring out the best in each other. The support is just unbelievable, the way the community backs the university. It’s a very unique place.”
Scholtz likes it here so much that he says once his tennis career is over, look for him to return often.
“I plan to travel and play tournaments. It’s a long process, in five years I can see myself hopefully breaking through to the highest level. You’ll still see me around this place though. I love it too much to leave it permanently. I’ll definitely come back and visit. I would like to have a residence here and come back every so often.”
They say home is where the heart is, and for Scholtz that means the Motherland. “At some point I’ll end up back in South Africa to run the family business,” he said. “It’s the South African dream in Agriculture to pass along the farm to your oldest son.”
The farm can wait though. Scholtz is focused on helping the Rebels contend for championships in the spring.
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