Phenom freshman Max Sheldon’s future with the Spartans was set in stone years before he committed to the tennis program.
“Max was a Spartan before I even knew he was a Spartan,” MSU men's tennis Head Coach Gene Orlando said. “He played here when he was younger and we got our picture taken together and he wasn’t even at a recruitable age yet. I think he always wanted to be a Spartan.”
Growing up though, tennis wasn’t the sport Sheldon was fully invested in.
“I was into baseball during my elementary to middle school years,” Sheldon said.
Even in high school when he was playing tennis fervently, he looked at other sports to give himself a breather.
“Coming into freshman year, I was pretty burnt out with tennis,” Sheldon said. “I just felt like I needed to do something else to take my mind off of everything and my high school coaches were some of the teachers that I had so they all were telling me that I should try golf and then a bunch of my friends joined the team so I thought it was a good fit and it took my mind off of tennis.”
Eventually he had to choose a sport to direct his full attention to, and when he was making his decision, he looked to the people that raised him.
“There was a point where I had to make a decision of what I wanted to focus on and I wanted to be like them so we pushed for tennis and got where we are now.”
Walter and Chris Sheldon both played tennis in college and it is no coincidence that their skills were passed down to Sheldon.
Rated a five-star recruit out of high school, Sheldon was ranked as one of the top 30 players in the country and the number two player in his home state of Illinois.
When it came down to his recruitment, Orlando was more than thrilled to welcome Sheldon to the Spartans.
“He was one of the best players in the Midwest, so that was exciting,” Orlando said. “I like to recruit Midwest kids.”
With the Spartans landing Sheldon, Orlando believes that having such a high caliber player on the roster can have a massive impact on future top recruits considering Michigan State as a viable option.
“He is going to attract other players,” Orlando said. “Obviously he was a highly ranked player and it definitely helps us in the recruiting process. Other players want to play with really good players and I definitely feel like he is going to help our program reach the next level.”
Not only will Sheldon’s commitment help in the future recruiting process, but he has already started to help the team with his play on the court.
In his first two singles matches of the season, Sheldon has won in straight sets along with a three-set finish against Virginia Tech and Cleveland State. He has also won both of his doubles matches against Eastern Illinois and IUPUI to help keep the Spartan’s record spotless as the early season moves along.
Orlando has been preparing Sheldon for this moment ever since last summer and he has grown to be a player the team can lean on while still having room to grow.
“He came in early in July before school even started here and he did a lot of training,” Orlando said. “He really had a breakout fall for a freshman and had some big wins and he has carried that on into the spring season right now, we are still early but he is a definitely a player that we are leaning on and we can expect him to continue to learn and improve and be a big-time player for us.”
Even with being one of the youngest players on the court, Sheldon doesn’t have any doubt that he can keep up with the more experienced players.
“With our fall matches I started to learn that I can hang with a lot of these older guys so I feel confident and I am not afraid of playing anybody,” Sheldon said. “I think I belong and I think I am going to fit in well.”
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With the season heating up, success is all that is on Sheldon’s mind.
“I just want to get some wins, contribute to the team, watch the team climb the ladder and just get better.”
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