When Max Shmotolohka started with the Sehome boys’ tennis program, he was — in his own words — a goofy, hot-headed freshman.
Now look at him.
District champion, undefeated singles season and highly praised by his coach as a mentor for the undefeated and district champion Mariners.
To add to that, he has been named — for the second straight year — The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year.
“Just growing up,” Shmotolohka said of what he’ll remember most about his time with the Mariners. “I just get it a little more now.”
The maturation of the Mariners’ senior was never more present than in his final season.
Some people like to fix cars in their garage. For me, I like fixing my forehand on the court.
Sehome senior Max Shmotolohka
For three years, Shmotolohka was known for his fiery play to go along with his enormous skillset. To take the next step, he had to quiet his emotional side.
“I think that’s where he demonstrated the most growth,” Sehome coach Bonna Giller said in a phone interview. “He did a great job of holding his emotions in and it’s a reason he won the district title.”
So how did he manage to take such a giant leap forward in managing his emotions?
“I think the first thing is to recognize that they are there and accept that I’m not going to be cold-faced or have a poker face,” Shmotolohka said. “But I don’t want to be defined by that. It’s not who I am as a person or tennis player.”
Also helping him grow on and off the court was the added responsibility of being a senior and a player-coach for the Mariners.
He excelled in the role.
Giller even went as far as to say “he’s one of the best player-coaches I’ve ever had.”
Frequently, he would help the younger players and the Mariners flourished because of it. The team went 16-0 and won a district team title.
20-0 Sehome’s Max Shmotolohka’s undefeated record his senior season
“I loved it. I really enjoyed it. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had with the guys,” Shmotolohka said of the player-coach position. “It was a new experience but I kind of relished it.”
While skill took him a long way, it was Shmotolohka’s unrivaled passion for the sport that made him so successful both as a player and mentor for the Mariners.
“I’ve never had a player who loves tennis so much,” Giller said. “He had so much enthusiasm. There wasn’t a player who he didn’t want to help.”
Between the difficulty of the sport and the ability to always improve, tennis is Shmotolohka’s passion.
“Some people like to fix cars in their garage. For me, I like fixing my forehand on the court,” Shmotolohka said. “It’s good to play and compete. There’s something at stake, but at the same time, there’s nothing at stake. You’re just playing a game.”
He’s currently in communication with several different college coaches in search of a chance to play at the next level, but he said academics come first in choice of school.
After college, Shmotolohka hopes his days in tennis won’t come to an end. He knows he’s not going to be a professional but would like to pursue some career in the sport.
First, though, the senior will get his final shot at state in the spring. He finished sixth last season after making the semifinals and hopes to go even further this year.
“It’s not going to be easy, there’s some really good competition there,” Giller said. “But if he doesn’t win it all, it won’t be because he hasn’t tried his best.”
Plus, there’s still five months to get better.
“It’s a long time until May. Anything can happen,” Shmotolohka said. “I’ll just keep hacking away.”