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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Leaning into pouring out

By Anna Pearson | Lifestyle editor

LINCOLN, Nebraska – Rylee Schurman watched the neon green tennis ball hit her racket with a satisfying ‘thwack’ time and time again. This was one of the biggest tennis matches she had ever played in – the Conference Semifinals against Lincoln East High School, the defending state champions. After a grueling match, Schurman and her doubles partner on the Lincoln North Star High School tennis team pulled out an unexpected win against the Spartans. Schurman and her high school teammates were not typical tennis players, who grew up on the sport: picking up a racket at age four and training for tennis ever since. When Schurman’s mom Jamee suggested that she should take up another activity freshman year of high school, coach Matt Lickliter was on board to get Schurman on the team. When he saw her in the halls during the day, he joked around with Schurman, pestering her about registering – saying things like, “See you on the court in the spring!”

Most of the girls on the Gator tennis team had never played tennis before. There was an abundance of volleyball or basketball experience on the team, like Schurman’s, but that was with a different kind of net. This meant the first day of practice looked much like a tennis clinic for 10-year-olds, teaching the newbies how to hold a racket and how to hit a forehand.


ARDEN HILLS – Now a senior biology major at Bethel University, Schurman has gone from learning how to hold a racket to having a 9-11 record in singles her junior year, playing against other Division III teams in the MIAC. Along with coach Drew Fernelius, Schurman uses her tennis and leadership skills to reshape the team and leave a legacy for future players, pouring into the team from a personal and spiritual perspective to help them grow.

“I feel like God has called me to lead in this way, and that is why I’m doing things the way that I am, not because I want to but because God told me to and put me here for this reason,” she said.

Schurman quit volleyball to play tennis full time senior year of high school, trading gym auditoriums for tennis courts. Tennis was a more independent sport – no more volleyball teammates who would stay out late before games and perform poorly the next day. After three seasons of tennis, Schurman added it to her college requirements. 


Visiting 13 colleges during her senior year, Schurman heard of Bethel from a player on the University of Sioux Falls tennis team from the Twin Cities. A few weeks later, on a chilly Sunday afternoon in November, Schurman met Coach Fernelius during her visit to campus.

“For whatever reason, I kind of knew at that very first meeting that she was going to be on our team,” Fernelius said. “She just clicked.”

Rylee Schurman stands proudly with a Bethel University sign as she is sent off to college, over 400 miles away from her home in Lincoln, NE. Bethel quickly became her top pick for college after finding faith and tennis in her future home as a Royal. “I never understood that they said you know when it’s the right one,” Schurman’s mom Jamee said. “But she knew, and it’s been a wonderful place for her to be.” | Photo submitted by Rylee Schurman

Freshman year of college, she spent 3o minutes a day or more working on tennis – whether that meant hitting balls by herself, recruiting her teammates to go to the courts or asking Coach Fernelius to give her help and feedback.

“In tennis, you can see the growth almost immediately,” Schurman said. “You can see the work that you put in directly pay off.”

The Bethel tennis team’s core values are two things that Schurman has strived to incorporate into her life outside of tennis: controlling attitude and effort, and supporting and encouraging one another. 

In some of her matches, Schurman has had to endure whipping wind and bone-chilling temperatures. She has also been up against rude opponents with no sports etiquette, or someone who is cheating with line calls. Sometimes, the official is biased. All of these things are out of her control.

“We can control how we respond, and how hard we try,” Schurman said. “Just giving it everything that we have every time we go out there, no matter what is going on around us.”

Rylee Schurman high-fives her junior year doubles partner, Emma Thole, during a match in the spring of 2022. As the only senior on the team this year, Schurman has developed long-lasting friendships with the younger girls on the team, hoping to be a mentor during their college journey. “I have no doubt of the success she’s going to have after Bethel, but more than that the influence she’s had on our team and the people that I’ve seen her influence, not only to come to Bethel but the influence she’s had on our team in so many positive ways,” Coach Drew Fernelius said. | Photo submitted by Rylee Schurman

Schurman has seen this perseverance in struggles from her biggest role models, her parents John and Jamee. Her father grew up in rural Nebraska with nine siblings, and worked a lot of hours in the construction field, helping to put Schurman in club sports and taking time for family vacations.

After a day of work, he often takes time to relax and turn on the nightly news, often joking with his daughter to stay in school, study hard, stay away from drugs and make good choices, unlike some of the news stories they would see. 

Growing up, Schurman saw how the “work before play” mindset was instilled in her through her father and his own experiences.

“I think she was surrounded by [hard work] I guess if you will, but we never really pushed it on her, it just happened naturally,” John said. “We didn’t have to tell her to.”

Her mother was a kindergarten teacher at the local elementary school, who would often bring food to needy families, and take Schurman and her friends to the fair, the circus or the movies when their parents couldn’t afford to.

Schurman’s parents once gave another family money to buy a car, so that they could get a job and be able to provide for their children. These examples of faith and generosity have pushed Schurman to do the same in her life, and have only been encouraged in her role as captain.

Growing up, Schurman loved weekend volleyball tournaments, because they meant avoiding church on Sunday morning. For her, church meant sitting in the sanctuary crankily half-listening to the sermon, pouting about having to endure such torture of an hour. Volleyball offered an escape.

At Parkview Christian School, the kids in Schurman’s Sunday school classes were the same ones who she saw throughout the week at school, and also the same ones who formed cliques without Schurman, making her feel like an outsider.

Schurman attended Maranatha Bible Camp one summer, and soon her parents noticed a difference in her spirituality. Not only was Schurman bringing friends to camp, but she also came home with stories to tell of ways God had been working. 

Rylee Schurman and her father John Schurman pose at the Nebraska state tennis tournament in 2018, Schurman’s senior year of high school. The Lincoln North Star High School tennis team was on the rise, winning against the reigning state champions in the conference semifinals that year, but losing to the eventual champs. “Being able to see all the work that you put in pay off in that way – and this probably sounds bad – but making people mad. Like, ‘your school is not supposed to be beating me in this sport,’ that historically just doesn’t happen,” Schurman said. | Photo submitted by Rylee Schurman

Now through tennis, Schurman has found her talents in supporting others by spiritually pouring into them, creating an environment of discipleship on and off of the court. When she first arrived at Bethel, she thought she knew what having a personal relationship with Jesus was like, from growing up in church. Schurman couldn’t be more wrong.

She could’ve won an award for the ‘most dedicated freshman to the Christian Formation and Church Relations office’ due to the amount of time she spent at Shift, Vespers, Chapel and even tennis Bible studies. Investing so much time in these various ministries was what Schurman thought would foster a deeper relationship with Christ, but she found that she needed to go deeper by herself.

“I was so frustrated because I just had not seen the fruit or growth of any of those choices,” Schurman said. “I eventually realized that’s because I wasn’t spending time with Jesus by myself, in my own time, and spending time in Scripture.”

She says she learned the importance of the people being the church, and what it means in terms of discipleship to have people pouring into her just as much as she’s pouring into others. This community that Schurman found outside of Sunday morning gatherings bleeds into her hopes for the tennis team, and for the legacy that she wants to leave behind.

In September 2021, Schurman got baptized at Grace Church in Roseville, Minnesota, with her parents, friends and mentors present to witness her proclamation of faith. Her parents tear up recalling hearing their daughters’ testimony before the baptism. 

“To hear her testimony the day she got baptized – just how she spoke – it was really eye opening to me, but then again it all happened at Bethel – we didn’t see that growth in a week,” John said. “We saw the results of it, which was awesome.”


Schurman has found the Christian community she used to be seeking, especially with the people on the tennis team. Her senior year, she heads the team as the solo senior captain, a position she never imagined holding the title of alone. For the past three years, one of her best friends, roommates and teammates Ingrid Goldstrand was by Schurman’s side, and the scene was set for the senior duo to take over as captains. 

The pair did everything together – from spending their sophomore season as doubles partners, going out to dinner, concerts and taking a trip to Nashville – but Goldstrand had been talking for over a year about quitting.

“I talked to coach, and I’m not coming back.”

Rylee Schurman extends a fist-bump to her teammate and sophomore doubles partner, Ingrid Goldstrand, during a match in spring 2021. Two years later, Goldstrand no longer takes her place besides Schurman in tennis, opting to quit her senior year. “Rylee and I talked through it together, and you know, we couldn’t make her play,” Coach Drew Fernelius said. “We tried to help her to want to play, but can’t make somebody want to do it, and she decided not to.” | Photo submitted by Rylee Schurman

These words were so simple – expected, even – yet threw Schurman’s senior year for a loop. Not only did this mean missing out on tennis in the last year of college with one of her best friends, but also the unknown of being the only leader on the team. Beginning her senior fall season, Schurman has had to learn to embrace her individual style of leadership.

She leaned into her coaches and teammates during this transition, allowing others to help her take the burden of captain responsibilities, especially when she’s having off days. The opportunity to foster a more close knit community on the team has not passed her by, and Schurman is looking forward to what she can accomplish as captain during her senior season.

Anything from driving the Bethel van packed with the team to locations for matches, to meeting with prospective tennis players have been building Schurman’s vision for Bethel tennis’ future.

Rylee Schurman and her tennis teammates pack a Bethel van on their way to a match. Schurman often drove the team in the vans, despite not always being the oldest or the one “in charge.” Her parents jokingly asked why she was the one driving, but the team replied that she was the best driver. “She was like Mother Hen to those girls,” her father John Schurman said. “I thought that was pretty cool.” | Photo submitted by Rylee Schurman

“I really challenged her to say, ‘This is a chance for you to leave a legacy behind of what Bethel tennis is going to be like after you’re gone,’ because being the only senior on the team, a lot of people look to her,” Fernelius said.

For the past three years, Schurman has spent her summers coaching summer youth tennis camps at Bethel alongside Fernelius and her teammates. When the kids are learning the basics of tennis, Schurman is often reminded of her late beginnings in tennis – learning how to hold a racket and hit the ball. Building their talent from a small basis, Schurman loves connecting with the kids who come back week after week for more tennis camp.

She sees tennis bringing light to their lives, including a pair named Margie and Zadie who have come all day, every week, for three summers in a row. 

“They’re just genuinely so fun to be around, so it’s fun to get people like that and get to know them, and get to know their parents when they come to pick them up,” Schurman said.

In another community across the world, Schurman also spent two weeks in July 2022 in La Lima, Honduras, working with youth and adults in impoverished places with the nonprofit Not For Sale, of which Fernelius’ wife is on the board. 

Volunteers ran a Vacation Bible School for the kids, brought 150 water filters and led a women’s health seminar on topics such as reproduction and menstruation. 

“People in Honduras love so genuinely and so well, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Schurman said. 

As Schurman goes into her senior season, her mind is fixed on discipleship and team culture. As Fernelius always says before matches: “Play to the person to your left and to your right.” For Schurman, this means sitting on each other’s courts and cheering teammates on during matches. Picking up your teammates and supporting them, especially during tough matches. Most importantly, glorifying God through tennis.

“Tennis has taught me that I can’t do any of this by myself, and if I rely on my own efforts to do all of these things and lead in this way, I will fall short every time,” Schurman said. “I have experienced that, and seen it, so I really lean into God and put Him first.”

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