MURRAY— Our next Murray Ledger and Times Athlete of the Year nominee has dabbled in nearly every sport imaginable but eventually settled on tennis. This past year, Murray High’s John Smetana played as the No. 1 seed on the boys’ side against the best that Region 1 has to offer.
Tennis wasn’t the first sport Smetana tried, but once he got a racket in his hand, he was hooked.
“I’ve tried all of the other sports, and I’m not really tall, or really big, and in a lot of sports that is necessary, like football, and if you’re not tall, it’s hard to play basketball,” Smetana said. “So I thought, ‘I’ve never tried tennis, so I’ll give it a shot since I’ve tried everything else,’ and I ended up really liking it.”
It wasn’t until eighth grade that Smetana stumbled upon tennis and at first, it was just something he could enjoy. Over time, though, he realized that this could be something at which he could excel and play at the varsity level.
“I first started in eighth grade but I didn’t really learn how to play until freshman year,” Smetana said. “I was able to hit the ball over the net, but once I started in high school, I started to actually learn how to play and I started taking it more seriously my junior and senior years.”
Those final two years of high school for Smetana were different, not just because he started to take it more seriously, but because he had a new coach, Chris Allen, who fostered that passion into a pursuit for perfection.
“We’ve always had a lot of different coaches. It’s always been different parents, and this is our first coach that actually has experience in coaching,” Smetana said. “It’s meant a lot to have him be there for me as I’ve grown.”
Allen stepped into the role of head tennis coach and, last year, made Smetana the captain on the boys’ side.
“John exemplified our team values; humble, hungry, and smart. He put the team ahead of his own personal goals,” Allen said. “He worked really hard and was a great captain because he understood the relational dynamics of a team.”
“I look up to (Allen) because he’s always about being positive and, no matter what happens, always pushing forward and learning from your mistakes, so having him nominate me for this means a lot,” Smetana said.
The team captains, Smetana and Emily Kinsey, would have conversations with the coaching staff to help them understand what was happening from a student perspective. These meetings helped guide the coaching staff in their approach for training the younger players.
“As a captain, he humbly considered his team’s interest while making decisions,” Allen said
Smetana also took the initiative to meet with teammates outside of the practices, to talk and check in on how they were doing. He said a big part of these meetings was to help build their confidence on the court.
“John gave his best effort every day at practice, which set a great example for the team. In two seasons, I never had to ask John to pick up his effort in practice,” Allen said. “He faced every obstacle and challenge of practice head-on, and as a result, John improved his tennis game.”
As a competitive person, Smetana said there was always going to be a sport that he was playing. Tennis just happened to be the one with which he fits best and he said that the team dynamic was perfect for him.
“Most of the time, if you’re playing a team sport, and something goes wrong, it’s not always your fault. It can be a part of your team, but if you’re playing singles and you lose, there’s something you can do better to win,” Smetana said. “I find that more comforting, knowing that if I lose, there is something I can work on to make sure that I win next time.”
Heading into regionals this past season, Smetana had a choice. He could either play singles or doubles and knowing that this could be the last time he played in a competitive tennis match, he chose to include his good friend, Cooper Allen, the coach’s son, and play doubles.
“I knew this is my last time and I wanted to have a good time doing it and we had a blast,” Smetana said. “It meant so much to me to be able to play with him for the last time. It felt like a nice ending.”
“John had a great season. He advanced in the regional tournament in doubles,” Chris Allen said. “John often matched up against the opponent’s best player. He never backed away from a challenge. He met every challenge, and he won important matches for his team.”
That just goes to show the competitive spirit that lives inside of John Smetana.