By Bryant Drayton
Michal Voscek, former VCU men’s tennis star, is experiencing first-hand the challenges that come with early adulthood. It’s the type of responsibility he’s been planning for since he was an adolescent.
Voscek received a multitude of accolades during his playing days for the Rams, most notably the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Most Outstanding Performer award in 2016. The Bratislava, Sloviakia native notched 79 singles wins in four years for the Rams, including 33 while playing at the No. 1 court, but Voscek’s playing career isn’t the only marvel he has to his credit.
A four-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete, it’s Voscek’s staggering numbers in the classroom that set him apart. In order to be named a scholar-athlete, one must maintain at least a 3.5 GPA and earn a varsity letter. Voscek’s 4.0 GPA was more than sufficient.
Voscek understood early on that his tennis career could be fragile, and a strong academic background was a necessity.
“I always wanted to go pro, but I had a couple of injuries when I was 17-18 so I decided to have a couple backup plans,” Voscek said. “This led me to choose to attend VCU. VCU was amongst the schools that I was in touch with that gave me the best options.”
Voscek says it took some time to get adjusted to life in Richmond when he arrived in 2012. He admits the transition was difficult, but it wasn’t long before the city began to feel like a second home. Whether it’s visits to Foo Dog or Home Team Grill, Voscek has grown accustomed to the Broad Street way.
He decided to continue his studies upon graduation in 2015 and enroll in VCU’s Urban Regional Planning master’s program. Voscek has always been fond of urban planning, especially sustainability research. He says his father that gave him the insight to experience life outside of tennis. Voscek learned the principles of hard work and has maintained that mindset to negotiate difficult times.
“I was very close to being finished playing when I was 14 years old,” Voscek said. “Tennis is such an individual sport that everything is on you, and if everything works well it’s easy to play, but if it doesn’t then you have to find a way.”
Separating emotions is what Michal used as his answer to solve the toils balancing school and tennis. Being able to black out all distractions on the court enabled him to be successful. But for the classroom, he had to equip himself with excellent time management skills needed to balance 20-plus hours spent athletically as well as an internship with Cite Design, a land-planning and urban design firm located in Jackson Ward.
He says his determination met its greatest test on the tennis court when VCU faced N.C. State in February of 2015. The Wolfpack’s Adam Powell was a seasoned veteran who had defeated Voscek in their previous match-up. Powell was a player Voscek respected, but knew he could overcome.
Eliminating mistakes he’d made in their previous match-up, Voscek would go on to defeat Powell in three sets, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 after coming back from behind in the final set, a performance he considers his most memorable.
“You have to set the priorities,” Voscek said. “Time management is the key, I took this as a chance to grow in the long-term prospective both as a tennis player and academically.”
As much as Voscek loved tennis – he’d been playing the sport his entire adult life – he recognized the road to earning a living in the game was a difficult one. He knew only a small percentage of amateurs successful transition into sustainable professional careers. While Michal considers professional tennis an option, it’s hardly the only one.
In May, Voscek applied for an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, a prestigious honor awarded to just 74 student-athletes annually. The scholarship, Voscek said, would help pay for the second half of his two-year urban planning graduate program. Earlier this month, Voscek received word he’d been granted the $7,500 scholarship. It was the second significant postgraduate scholarship award for of the summer for Voscek. In June he won a $5,000 scholarship from the Atlantic 10.
“I know that continuing my education is more important than pursuing a career as a professional tennis player,” Voscek said. “My career objective is to learn and practice sustainable urban design and create neighborhoods and communities that are not only attractive, but also functional and sustainable.”
During his final academic year, Voscek will work intensively with VCU’s Office of Sustainability on developing a plan related to the planning issues centered on the university. Although still in the works, he is already eager to plunge into continuing his research on the VCU Conservation and Renewable Energy Plan he started last semester. The plan explores the possibility of transitioning the university primarily to solar energy. He is scheduled to submit his proposal at the end of the spring semester.
Voscek’s final year of classes will begin in August. In the meantime, he’s been bided his time by scratching his competitive itch. Earlier this summer he played in a handful of tennis tournament in Europe. While he plans on enjoying some quiet time over the next few weeks, he has set one more athletic goal for himself. He wants to dunk a basketball. Recently, the lanky 6-foot-2 Voscek was able to complete the feat on a 9’ 4’’ hoop. If Voscek knows how to do one thing in life, it’s how to aim high.