MacMaster overcoming the opponent within

This story appeared in the Colorado edition of the October ESPN RISE Magazine.

He would get upset. Like any normal 12-year-old would. Only Casey MacMaster wasn't normal then, and he's not normal now.

MacMaster is an exceptional tennis player. One of the top high school seniors in the country. According to his coaches, the Rocky Mountain (Fort Collins, Colo.) star has all the talent necessary to go pro some day. But he also has a weakness: MacMaster despises losing so much it winds up hurting his game.

When he was 12, any missed shot could trigger his temper. One shot long and his slender face contorted. A second shot wide and he yelled out in disgust. A third shot into the net and he slammed his racket onto the court.

"I didn't want to lose, not even one point, so when I did I would get upset at myself," says MacMaster. "Frustration would boil over and I couldn't handle it anymore."

He's since matured and done away with the on-court dramatics. But deep in his heart, MacMaster still can't stand losing any point. And that, he says, has hindered his progress.

"It's pulling me back because I'm not willing to take the necessary sacrifices," MacMaster says. "I don't go for the big shots because I'm afraid I'm going to miss them. I'll loop it back in and make them hit another shot."

But that is starting to change. For the past two years, MacMaster has been retooling his game. He's hitting aggressive shots deep into the corners and following them up by rushing the net and taking the offensive once he's there. And his newfound boldness is paying off in wins.

At press time, MacMaster was rated the No. 1 player in Colorado and the No. 30 player in the nation for the Class of 2010 by TennisRecruiting.net. He went 26-0 for Rocky Mountain as a junior on his way to the Class 5A No. 1 singles state title, and he's had similar success on the national stage.

Throughout the year, MacMaster flies around the country playing in tournaments against other elite players. He's won four singles events -- the Muterspaw Championships, the ITA Easter Circuit, the ITA Sweetheart Circuit and the ITA Snowball Championship -- since the end of the 2008 high school tennis season, beating some of the best players in the nation in the process.

Scary thing is, MacMaster hasn't come close to reaching his potential.

"It's kind of incredible how much room he has to improve and how good he already is," says Martin Krbec, MacMaster's coach of six years and the head tennis pro at Miramont Lifestyle Fitness. "He still has so much room to improve. His game is going to mature right up to the pro level."

Standing 6-foot-6, 200 pounds with quick feet and a serve that clocks in at 130 mph, MacMaster has all the tools needed to be a national star. The only things holding him back seem to be time and location.

Because MacMaster puts school first (he has a 3.9 GPA), he doesn't practice full-time like most top players, especially those who attend tennis academies. While those players practice several hours a day, seven days a week, MacMaster is lucky if he gets in two hours of practice five times a week.

"Skill-level-wise, I think I can do everything they can," MacMaster says. "I just can't do it right now because I don't have the opportunity to practice much."

Then there's the issue of playing in Colorado, where MacMaster says, "we are constricted on our level of play."

With snow covering the ground for much of the year, MacMaster can play on outdoor courts only so many months. And even when he is playing outside, it's not against the best.

No other player in Colorado is rated in the national top 250, which makes it hard for MacMaster to find hitting partners to play against, let alone opponents who can take his game to the next level. That's forced him to travel to surrounding states to get quality practice time against top amateurs and professionals.

In the past year, MacMaster has gone to California several times to hit with pro Jeff Salzenstein and several college players, including Steve Johnson of USC. Good thing he's used to flying.

"I've been traveling all over the nation since I was 12," says MacMaster. "I've gotten quite used to [living] out of hotels and friends' houses. It's actually a lot of fun."

Make no mistake about it: While MacMaster has fun playing the sport he loves, visits to California are more about business than vacation. He's going there to get better, with the next level in mind.

MacMaster says he would like to compete at the professional level one day, though for now he has his sights set squarely on college. MacMaster has just started the recruiting process and had yet to receive any official offers at press time, but he hopes to attend a school highly competitive in both academics and tennis. He counts Duke, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale among his top choices.

"I think when I get to college my game is going to take off," MacMaster says. "At that time I'm going to have the opportunity to be exposed to the kind of practice I'm looking for."

Once he has more practice time, there's no telling how good he can get.

"I see a lot of parallels between Casey and high-level players," says Rocky Mountain coach Bruce Malloy. "I would bank on him, if he decided to go into the pros, doing pretty good. He's one of the highest-quality players I've seen in 30 years of playing."

Malloy should know. The first time he saw MacMaster play it was from across the net in a doubles match.

"There was very little I could do to find a weakness," says Malloy. "Being young, he had some immature qualities. But he was dedicated to learn more and become an exceptional player."

MacMaster has always been exceptional. He's just learning how exceptional he can be.

Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.