Just a few more strides, and he would be there.
Though Jeremy Kochman’s body felt like it could not move another inch, he willed himself to keep running.
He was almost to the other side of the tennis practice facility. He was going to make it, he only needed a second more.
The sudden sound cut through the air just barely before he reached the checkpoint. He was late.
Crumbling to the floor, he swore at himself for his failure and looked on as his teammates continued the conditioning exercise.
He was not used to such strenuous training, and it was apparent now that he was part of a Division I program.
A freshman at the time, Kochman, now Lehigh’s No. 1 singles and doubles player, was new to the team after spending the first 18 years of his life in Brooklyn, New York. He only knew what it was like to be the best player on his team, having served as captain of the Poly Prep Country Day School tennis team for three straight years and having been named most valuable player for all four.
But when he first arrived at Lehigh, Kochman was no longer the best. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the highest-rated recruits in his class.
“The first practices were definitely overwhelming,” Kochman said, “seeing a bunch of guys that I knew were higher ranked than I was and who had great success already.”
At that point, it was difficult for him to foresee that he would eventually be the captain of his collegiate team, too. The biggest difference, however, was the time and work it took him to earn his leadership title.
Beginning on the bench, and finishing as the top singles player on the Lehigh team was not an easy journey for Kochman. The process included four years of hard work and featured leadership training, focus on players around the league and a frightening injury in between.[parallax-scroll id=”29590″]
Throughout everything he has experienced, one constant for Kochman has been his co-captain and best friend, fellow senior Ricardo Prince.
“I remember when I saw him on move-in day,” Prince said. “We immediately hit it off.”
They were both labeled as a similar character: a former high school star who was not regarded as a leading Mountain Hawk player. Since the first day Kochman and Prince arrived in Bethlehem, one of the ways they’ve strengthened their friendship most is through their participation in the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy.
The goal of the academy is to develop Lehigh’s athletes throughout a four-year program to help maintain a productive and transparent culture Kochman has been keen on being a part of.
As a freshman, the dialogues with older Mountain Hawks from all sports about what goes into a good leader helped shape him as he progressed in the program. His original definition of a good captain consisted of being loud and taking charge.
But Kochman now understands how much more goes into it.
“That program allowed me to learn that it’s not only about being vocal,” Kochman said. “There’s a lot of leading by example that I didn’t know was as important.”
While the program has done its part in transforming him into the leader he is today, the rest was up to Kochman. Part of that was making sure he focused on his own development.
Whether it was getting to practice early to get some extra serves in or sticking to a summer regiment, he did everything he could to improve his game. And when he wasn’t practicing, he would keep a close eye on the rest of the collegiate tennis community.
Prince said he has always been amazed with how much information his co-captain is able to digest about their competition. Before every match Kochman can almost always tell you the record of everyone on the opposing team.
The team’s staff, including head coach Wouter Hendrix, has been able to see firsthand how Kochman’s dedication has paid off throughout the years. He’s been moved around the lineup, playing many matches at second, third and fourth singles until finally taking over the top spot when he became a captain.
“All along the way in those four years, we never had a bad moment, and he was never negative,” Hendrix said.
With everything going in the right direction, Kochman was riding a wave of momentum going into his senior year after getting named to the second team All-Patriot League team.
But all of his hard work was almost taken away.
A back injury in the fall of his final season prevented Kochman from going through the preseason preparation he would have liked to do. To make things worse, it was restricting his activity outside of just his tennis play.
“I was having trouble on a day-to-day basis moving around, and it affected me in all aspects of life,” Kochman said.
But after spending a few days every week during his winter break with a personal trainer, he began to feel more comfortable. He followed the routine his trainer had set up for him until the pain eventually subsided.
Though the injury limited Kochman physically, it did not prevent him from continuing to lead his team as a captain. Drawing on his experiences as a younger member of the team, he has made it a priority to inspire those who will continue his legacy after he graduates this spring.
Now in the final stretch of his collegiate career, Kochman repeatedly reminds his teammates that if he was able to go from benchwarmer to captain, they can, too.
“The younger players latch on to him,” Hendrix said. “They look up to him. It’ll be a big loss when he walks out of here.”
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