Sternberg consistently consistent for Jasper tennis

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Jasper boys tennis has dealt with some challenges this season, but senior Max Sternberg has been a big reason the Wildcats have conquered those challenges to end up at state again this year.


JASPER — Max Sternberg has served as a steady hand in a season of adversity for Jasper boys tennis.

The No. 12 Wildcats (19-2) entered the season having graduated five out of seven players from last year’s state semifinals lineup, saw 2020’s No. 1 singles player, Justin Shultz, miss time early on due to a shoulder injury and didn’t set their doubles combinations until later in the season.

“There was definitely some challenges,” Sternberg said. “We just had to stay calm and collected. We tried to not worry too much and the guys with injuries did great of battling them off.”

And through all of that, Sternberg has emerged as a bastion of consistency out of that No. 1 singles spot. He played No. 1 singles spot his sophomore year, but played No. 2 singles last year after Shultz’s meteoric rise to the top spot. Still, just because he had prior experience at the spot didn’t negate some adjusting he had to do.

“(Moving to No. 1 singles) was probably a little bit easier for me than most people, but I just had to adjust mentally knowing that every single match I was going out there playing the best player on the other team,” Sternberg said.

“His physical strength is probably his biggest growth because it helps so many parts of his game,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said. “I think mentally, he’s always been one of those guys that from point one to the last point is in every point. He does a great job of figuring out matches as he goes, but his physical strength and getting stronger has helped him tremendously.”

And at 22-5, Sternberg has been as close to a sure bet as anything for the Wildcats this season.

“It’s like the leadoff batter in baseball or the point guard or the quarterback,” Yarbrough said. “We’re just going to pencil him in, and each week we know what we’re getting.”

Sternberg and Shultz have different styles. Sternberg noted that Shultz hits the ball harder than he does, while he might keep a couple more balls in play.

“It’s just good to have different playstyles on the team,” Sternberg said. “So, it’s just easier — you can interchange us, and you’ll probably get the same result.”

Yarbrough described Sternberg as more of a grinder, while Shultz can have a bigger forehand, but he touted the two of them for being “as even as they come.”

Shultz has an 18-2 record this season, and it’s been a while since Yarbrough has felt like his No. 1 singles and No. 2 singles players could be interchangeable to the point that the Wildcats could get the same output and results, regardless of who was in which spot. The last time he felt he could have such a luxury was with Eli Seng, a 2014 graduate, and Grant Weaver, a 2015 graduate.

In fact, Sternberg was a serious challenger to reclaim the No. 1 singles spot even without Shultz’s injury.

“Him and Justin both could play that spot on many, many different teams,” Yarbrough said.

“Me and Justin — we put a lot of time in and hit it between ourselves,” Sternberg said. “And we knew it’d be close between who would get the one-singles spot, but we weren’t too worried about that. We were just about both getting better each day.”

Sternberg is really excited and described getting to finish his career at state as “truly a blessing.” The Wildcats made it a goal to get to state before the season, and they’re set to be in action Friday at Center Grove against Westview in the state quarterfinals.

Unlike some other sports, tennis teams typically don’t watch film on the competition. Shultz is scheduled to play senior Elijah Hostetler in the No. 2 singles, while Sternberg is set to meet Elijah’s younger brother, junior Isaiah Hostetler, in the No. 1 singles.

“I did a little bit of research and he looks like a really nice player,” Sternberg said.

“I’m imagining a young man who covers the court really well, doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes and that we really need to get into our gameplan as quickly as possible,” Yarbrough said. “We need to get settled, let the heart rate race a little bit because it’s the state finals, get nerves calm and then really try to dig into what we’re trying to accomplish.”

More on