Corona del Mar's Megan Wachtler reminded herself she was a tennis player, but the more schools she visited, the more she realized she had a little football player in her too.
Wachtler grew up attending USC football games with her father, Bob, and decided she wanted to spend her college years at a school with a football tradition. So she narrowed her choices to three schools that know a lot about her planned major, aeronautical engineering, and a little about football--the Air Force Academy, Nebraska and Ohio State. She visited Air Force first, then Nebraska and finally, Ohio State. Wachtler knew she wanted to become a Buckeye almost before she landed in Columbus.
"Somebody on the plane was telling me about all the tradition, the local hangouts and what the campus was like," she said. "They were getting me all excited."
But the fun was just beginning for Wachtler, whose parents accompanied her. The tennis coach picked up her family at the airport and took them to the campus.
"I liked it," said Wachtler, who also was treated to 80-degree temperatures, a rarity for Columbus in early October. "It had a back-East feel to it. I talked with a lot of people on the team and at the school and nobody had anything bad to say about Ohio State."
Wachtler then visited the school's outdoor tennis court and its indoor tennis facility, which is under construction. She also spent some time in the bookstore and bought almost everything.
Later, Wachtler made a visit to the Ohio State locker room.
"I walked in there and they had my name on my locker and my name on a uniform," she said. "I couldn't believe it. When I walked out of there, I thought, 'I could picture myself here.' I didn't expect any of it."
Wachtler certainly didn't expect to attend the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game that weekend, but there she was on Saturday afternoon sitting on the 50-yard line with her parents as guests of the athletic department. That night, she went to a post-game party with some tennis players. The next morning, she met with the tennis coach, who offered her a full scholarship.
"Once she said, 'What would I think about coming here?' I just started crying and said, 'Yes,' " Wachtler said. "I realized everything had paid off. Everything I'd done up to this moment, all the tennis lessons and all the tournaments, was worth it. And the fact that I loved it so much at Ohio State made it that much better."
Wachtler also knew she had a come a long way in a short time. She spent most of the summer trying to recover from mononucleosis and very little time on the tennis court. She missed the national tournaments and many of the important local events. All Wachtler had was her Southern California doubles ranking (No. 5), her singles ranking (No. 30) and a videotape of her playing tennis.
Fortunately, the video and the rankings were enough for Nebraska, Air Force and Ohio State, which never saw Wachtler play in person. If scouts had seen her, they might not have liked what they saw. Early in the fall, Wachtler struggled just to finish matches.
"By the third set of my high school matches, I was absolutely dead," she said. "I'd take a day off sometimes and just lay around the house."
But since orally committing to Ohio State, Wachtler has been getting back into form. After losing four sets early in the season, Wachtler has breezed through the Sea View League, improving her singles record to 35-4 for the Sea Kings, ranked second in the county.
"She's got a much stronger net game this year," Corona del Mar Coach Tim Mang said. "She's thinking more, setting up her points instead of just playing them."
Wachtler said he owes much of her improvement to Sam Olson, her private coach who runs a tennis academy at the Balboa Bay Racquet Club.
"I'm trying to get more of an all-around game," she said. "Sam changed my forehand and I'm getting more topspin now. I can hit out and be more aggressive. I had such a flat game last year and I made a lot of errors. I'm a lot more confident and happy now."
And she'll be even happier Nov. 8, the day she signs her letter of intent to attend Ohio State.