Daniel Sanchez is a winner.
Ever since he started playing tennis at age 10, Sanchez has been adding accomplishments to his résumé’. Whether it was in Venezuela, where Sanchez is from, or at Grace, his new home, Sanchez has played tennis—and played it well.
Sanchez, though, was not the first one in his family to play tennis. In fact, if baseball practices had not been so boring to Sanchez, he might have never ventured to pick up a tennis racquet. After wanting to watch his sister play tennis to see if tennis looked appealing, Sanchez decided he would give it a try himself.
Within a month of starting out at the beginner’s court, Sanchez was playing at the court for top-rated players. This was the start of a career that would make Sanchez the top-ranked player in all of Venezuela this past summer for players 18 years old and under—when Sanchez is only 17.
During his playing time in Venezuela, Sanchez was able to compile many other accomplishments. Playing club tennis, Sanchez made five regionals in singles, making the semifinals once, and won nationals for doubles twice. It was because of this success that Sanchez became a top recruit from Venezuela.
Yet despite his success, Sanchez could not really continue his tennis career in Venezuela. Wanting to learn English better, live on his own and study in the United States, Sanchez started looking at colleges to play for. A sports agent gave Sanchez some suggestions on where to begin, and one of those was Grace.
Maybe it is ironic Sanchez is at Grace. After all, tennis head coach Larry Schuh has taught Spanish for 13 years. Maybe it was because Sanchez did not take the ACT in time to secure a scholarship from Taylor University. Or maybe everything lined up for a reason. As Schuh put it, “God, for whatever reason, wanted him to come to Grace.”
When Schuh started emailing Sanchez about playing for Grace, Sanchez could tell he was different. Though Sanchez could tell Schuh wanted him the most, that was not stuck out the most. What Sanchez noticed was a Schuh’s short closing on every email that said, “Prov. 3:5-6.”
Sanchez quickly pointed it out to his dad, a pastor. It was, after all, his favorite Bible verse, and one that cemented Sanchez’s interest in Grace. Still, Sanchez wanted to major in engineering—a degree that Grace did not offer.
One day last January, Schuh had not heard from Sanchez or his family in three weeks, when he received an email from Sanchez’s dad saying that Sanchez was still thinking over his choice of major: business or engineering. Schuh knew what that meant. If Sanchez chose engineering, he was going to Taylor and Grace would lose a top recruit.
Later that day, Schuh received an email that would change the men’s tennis program—except it was not from Sanchez.
Instead, it was from former Grace athletic director Chad Briscoe, who did not know about Sanchez’s pending decision. He informed Schuh that Grace was going to add an engineering program—just in case he wanted to let recruits know. Of course, Schuh quickly told Sanchez and later that day Sanchez committed to Grace. This was one final miracle in Sanchez’s direction to Grace.
“There were answers from God,” Sanchez said. “He was opening doors.”
Now at Grace, Sanchez has become a fixture on the tennis team as his tennis success has now stormed through his collegiate play.
Not many freshmen can say they made it to the quarterfinals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Tournament. Sanchez can. He actually could have done better, too. After defeating the No. 8 seed, the eleventh-ranked player in the tournament, and one of the host school’s (Aquinas College) top players, Sanchez finally lost in his eighth grueling match in two days to the No. 3 seed.
Still, in only his first year, Sanchez was named to the MCC All-Conference Team after going undefeated in singles competition. Sanchez was also 11-1 in doubles competition, with his only loss coming in the MCC championship. Unfortunately for Sanchez, his doubles partner, Aaron Blevins, had broken his toe the night before the championship, significantly hindering their chances at winning.
Sanchez’s success on the court can be traced back to his intelligence—intelligence that will help Sanchez pursue his dream of starting his own company after graduation. Schuh says that Sanchez has a knack for always hitting the best shot at the best time—not bad for someone playing against foes that could have been five years older than him.
When he first toured the Orthopaedic Capital Center, Sanchez found his number one goal at Grace. When Sanchez looked at the men’s tennis plaque, he saw that the last time Grace won the MCC conference was 1989. Shocked, Sanchez vowed to change that.
“I want to add some new numbers to it,” Sanchez explained with a laugh.
Sanchez will certainly do his part. After a great freshman year, Sanchez should only get better. Schuh said “he could see” Sanchez breaking some records and finishing with one of the most successful careers in the history of Grace’s tennis program.
Regardless, Sanchez has already left a mark on Grace, simply by being here. His addition to the men’s tennis team cannot and will not go unnoticed. And if the past is any indication, Sanchez will leave an even bigger mark on Grace.
Good thing Sanchez ended up Grace—as “fate,” of course, would have it.
By Zane Gard
This story was published in the November 4 issue of Grace’s student newspaper, The Sounding Board.