During his Division 3 boys’ tennis state final against Westborough’s Sumukh Pathi last June, Max Schuermann felt like he ran out of gas.
Fatigue and muscle cramps wore down the Dover-Sherborn standout, as Pathi’s pinpoint accuracy ran him from boundary to boundary on a hot afternoon. Then a junior, Schuermann had defeated Pathi, 6-1, in the second set, held a 5-3 advantage in the third and earned two match points, but eventually lost, 7-5, in the deciding set.
Letting that opportunity slip through his fingers is something the driven young man won’t soon forget.
Schuermann, who holds an individual 93-4 record over four years as the top singles player for Dover-Sherborn, has revamped his weekly workout routines at Natick’s New England Academy of Tennis. He works closely with a nutritionist and conditioning coach, which seemed to pay dividends when he bested Winchester’s Noah Criss in a three-set, three-hour marathon May 25 to clinch a third consecutive Eastern Mass title.
Now Schuermann hopes to navigate a state semifinal and potential state final on June 16 at St. John’s High in Shrewsbury.
“Losing that match was tough,” Schuermann said of last year’s state final, “but I took it as a good learning experience for this year. It was almost good to see where I was at, so I could work on my game.”
Schuermann, 19, was born in California, but grew up in Natick before moving to Dover at the age of 11, when he stayed back a grade. His mother, Sona, played tennis at Wellesley College and introduced him to the sport shortly after moving to Dover.
Schuermann quickly realized that he preferred tennis over soccer, which he played throughout his youth but gave up in order to eventually concentrate his efforts on the hard court.
He began training at the Wayland Longfellow Club and began playing in United States Tennis Association Junior Tournaments in the Under-14 and Under-16 divisions.
Dover-Sherborn coach Jon Kirby said that by the time Schuermann reached high school, he was the most advanced freshman tennis player the coach had ever encountered.
“He came to us as an accomplished player,” said Kirby. “And he’s been the number one singles player for us all four years.”
During that span, Dover-Sherborn has gone 63-0 during regular season team play. Schuermann is 75-2 as an individual, including both regular season and postseason matches, inspiring his teammates to heighten their level of play.
“When Max came on [the team], it changed everything,” said Kirby, who coached boys’ tennis at Dover-Sherborn for eight years, then served as Medfield High athletic director for 12 years before returning to his previous perch six years ago.
“Players worked harder in the offseason because Max raised the bar,’’ he said. “If you wanted to compete with Max, you had to put in some time. Tennis players, just like any other athletes, are really made in the offseason, and he’s a kid that does everything the right way and sets an example with how he works year-round.”
‘He’s kind of a late bloomer, but where you see a lot of kids plateau, he’s just continued to rise.’
For Schuermann, competing with the best players off the public school circuit requires learning from some of the best.
In spring 2017, he began working at Dedham Country Club with Tim Mayotte, a former top 10 player on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour.
Mayotte, who hails from Springfield, is opening his own tennis academy in an effort to create world-class tennis players from the region.
“What struck me the most is [Schuermann’s] work ethic and focus,” said Mayotte. “He’s kind of a late bloomer, but where you see a lot of kids plateau, he’s just continued to rise. He’s really fun to work with because he comes in so motivated every time.”
While there are drawbacks to specialization in one sport, Schuermann has no regrets about training to become the best tennis player he can be.
“What I love so much about tennis is that you can always improve,” said Schuermann. “I don’t know if I’d have the same type of drive for something else in life if I wasn’t as focused on’’ tennis.
In addition to his physical conditioning, Schuermann works with a mental coach to help with his overall approach to the game. Those strategies paid dividends during his recent battle with Criss in the Eastern Mass finals.
“We work on staying calm in big matches,” Schuermann said. “I need to be able to realize that there’s nowhere I’d rather be and find the fun side of playing. I think that approach really helped me come back’’ to beat Criss.
Dover-Sherborn enters the Division 3 South state tournament as the second seed and is vying for its first state title in over 30 years.
Yet even when the team has been defeated as a whole in past years, Schuermann’s teammates have offered him their robust support.
For second singles player Lucas Minus, having a four-star tennis recruit leading the team makes it easier to feel confident heading into state tournament play.
“You never want to think anyone’s game is secure,” said Minus, “but it’s nice knowing the majority of the time we can count on Max to win. I enjoy being the second singles spot because I think he deserves the first singles spot.
“We really want him to win [an individual state title] this year so he can [have] some redemption.”Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.