By DICK VANO’LINDA
There was a time when Dallastown tennis star John Schmitt considered not even playing the game in high school.
“Freshman year, I was thinking of not playing tennis, but one of my friends came out for the team, and since he was playing, I thought, ‘why not give it a try?'” Schmitt said.
Schmitt wasn’t exactly a newcomer to tennis when reporting for his first practice as a freshman. He played a lot of tennis when he was younger, but then got away from the game.
“I enjoyed soccer, and I was playing that. Also, there weren’t a bunch of my friends playing tennis at the time, so I stayed away from it for a while,” he said.
Schmitt rediscovered his love for tennis, and his strokes, particularly his strong forehand, after joining the varsity. In his second year with the Wildcats, he helped the team win the York-Adams Division I title while finishing third in the York-Adams Singles Tournament.
After earning the bronze medal in 2013, Schmitt won the singles gold last year. He’s the top-seeded player for this year’s Class AAA league singles tournament, which begins Friday at South Western High School.
Meanwhile, York Suburban senior Elliot Diehl will open his defense of the Class AA singles crown on Friday at Red Lion High School. Diehl is the No. 1-seeded player in the AA bracket.
“Being top seeded doesn’t really change a thing,” Schmitt said. “You still have to win four matches.”
One thing has changed. Schmitt is not the same player he was a year ago.
“I’ve really improved my backhand, and last year, that was a real weakness,” he said. “My serve is more of a weapon, and I can put it in different parts of the box.”
Schmitt’s toughest match of the regular season came against Red Lion’s Sam Innerst. The Dallastown senior lost the first set before rallying for a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory.
Schmitt vs. Innerst is a rivalry within a long-standing rivalry (Dallastown vs. Red Lion).
“He’s a great player,” Schmitt said. “I know I have to bring it every time I play him.”
Of course, both Schmitt and Innerst, who holds the No. 2 seed, will have to win three matches in order to meet in the final, and there are formidable challengers waiting for both players in the earlier rounds.
“John knows all the top kids in this tournament, I would say the first seven or eight, and on any given day, they can beat each other,” Dallastown coach Mark Koons said. “He knows he’ll need to come out fired up and ready to go.”
Schmitt is hoping to join Andrew Holmes, Phil Bayliss, Billy Heird and Gavin Smith on the list of Dallastown players who have won two York-Adams singles crown. Oliver Merrill is the Wildcats’ leader in York-Adams singles gold medals with three.
“It would be a great way to finish my career,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more.”
Tennis isn’t the only sport in which Schmitt has excelled. He was selected Co-Player of the Year last fall in Division I of the York-Adams Boys’ Soccer League.
“It (playing two sports) was sort of difficult, but, at the same time, I’m glad I did it,” Schmitt said. “I definitely had a lot of fun playing soccer and tennis.”
Schmitt has narrowed his college choices to the University of Pittsburgh and McDaniel College.
Diehl, meanwhile, will attend Goucher College.
The Suburban standout joined his father, Craig, on the list of York-Adams singles tennis champions when he won last year.
Diehl and Michael Peck will also aim to win the Class AA doubles championship for the second straight year.
— Reach Dick VanO’Linda at email@example.com.