Anyone at a Sehome boys’ tennis match will quickly notice Mariners’ junior Max Shmotolokha.
Sehome’s No. 1 singles player certainly doesn’t lack talent, but what most will see first is the way he reacts after every point.
A great ace or a cross-court point will lead Shmotolokha to an outburst of excitement. A missed shot or poor decision that leads to his opponent’s point, and Shmotolokha might be seen talking to himself, urging himself to play better.
“He’s far and away the most passionate player I’ve ever had,” Sehome coach Bonna Giller said in a phone interview. “He wears every point on his sleeve — point won or point lost. You can definitely gauge how he’s feeling. He’s very demonstrative about his style of play.”
Sometimes that can be a detriment to The Bellingham Herald’s 2014 All-Whatcom County Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year — he puts a lot of energy into expressing himself.
But for Shmotolokha, it’s just who he is — an opportunity to pump himself or his team up.
“It’s part of me. I love the game. Winning is part of why I love the game,” Shmotolokha said in a phone interview. “That’s why I express success and sometimes get mouthy after losing points. I believe in myself. That’s me trying to forget the point. When I’m not letting it go, that’s when it gets ugly.”
There’s definitely no doubting Shmotolokha’s love for the game. He plays seven days a week all year long. He competes in United States Tennis Association tournaments during the high school offseason and is always looking for a match.
“He is bigger and stronger because he’s played so much tennis,” Giller said. “Out of the rest of the guys on the team, Max has played more tennis, 10 to one.”
So when Shmotolokha came into 2014 and challenged fellow Sehome singles player Brady Anderson in practice for the No. 1 spot, it came as no surprise.
Shmotolokha had improved by “leaps and bounds,” particularly with his mental game.
“He’s a student of the game as far as analyzing the type of player his opponent is and the type of shots he needs to create to win his matches,” Giller said. “He’s very calculated about what his next move is going to be.”
Shmotolokha won the first challenge against Anderson and lost the second, before winning the third and keeping the top singles spot the rest of the season. The challenge matches were so intense throughout the season, that teammates would stop practicing to watch the two compete, Giller said.
But that was just the beginning of what turned out to be one of the best matchups in the district. The two faced off in the district semifinal, which Anderson took 6-3, 6-2.
The two met again just days later in the second-place match, and this time Shmotolokha would get back on top with a 6-4, 7-5 win, securing him a spot at the Class 2A State Tournament in May.
“Boy, am I happy,” Shmotolokha said of clinching a state berth. “I always look forward to the big match. I came in thinking, here’s an opportunity to prove yourself. Some people feel the pressure, but I see it as an opportunity to do something big.”
Shmotolokha’s goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to state. Now, that he’s clinched a spot, he’ll get to prove his talents.
One thing’s for sure, he’ll be a player that forces you to pay attention.
“The passion that he brings to the sport, it’s fun to watch,” Giller said. “He’s a showman.”
The next step for Shmotolokha will be to continue to grow as a team member, Giller said. Despite being a full time 4.0 Running Start student and never attending Sehome High School — as an underclassmen, he went to private school — he’s been a huge part of the team atmosphere for the Mariners, as he helped them to a share of the team district title.
“You represent a school; you’re part of a team, and Max started out, when he was younger, not getting that quite as much,” Giller said. “We’re a real tight team; we always have been. He realized that’s just as important.”
Shmotolokha added, “It’s a different dynamic. That’s part of what makes the high school season special — playing for a team and doing that. I’ve learned to appreciate it.”
Giller has certainly enjoyed having him on the team — both for his skills as a tennis player but also his personality.
“He’s wise beyond his years,” Giller said. “Sometimes I think ‘Dude, are you even a teenager?’ He’s got a very active mind.”