MK serves it up in tennis

Whether it’s little league, high school, college, or pros, most sports teams have a go to player. For the conference champion Santa Monica College women’s tennis team, that was Mary Katherine Ashmore.

Born and raised in Rome, Georgia, Ashmore is nothing short of a tennis prodigy. Ranked as high as tenth in the nation as a 10-year-old, it didn’t take long for her to figure out there was a future for her on the tennis court.

“I started playing when I was two. I started walking, and grabbed a racquet,” said Ashmore. “My cousin, my second Mom pretty much, she was a tennis pro so I grew up playing with her every single day.”

Although Ashmore’s playing style has undoubtedly changed through the years, picking up little tricks here and there along the way, the basics she learned at a young age has become ingrained in her for life.

“I have this shot called the mojo and I learned it from her,” said Ashmore. “It’s a really weird, spinning shot. My playing style is still very much influenced by her.”

Before making the move to the West Coast to attend SMC, Ashmore attended Darlington School in Rome. While growing up in Rome, she competed in the junior tennis circuit all along the South, and even started her collegiate career playing club tennis for the University of Georgia.

While at Darlington, Ashmore worked her way to the state championship as a junior, and eventually reached the pinnacle of high school sports by her senior year.

“As far as junior competitive tennis goes, I was playing every weekend. I traveled all around the South, from Texas to Florida. I played competitive junior tennis until I was about 16, and then just really focused on high school,” said Ashmore.

While pursuing a medical degree at the University of Georgia, Ashmore also joined the club tennis team on campus, which she recalls, rivaled the talent on the varsity squad.

But in the midst of earning her medical degree, Ashmore made an about face. After visualizing the long road ahead, she realized a life in medicine was not for her.

“I was pre-med, my family is very medically oriented, but I kind of freaked out when I started studying for the MCAT, and didn’t want to do it," said Ashmore. "I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life, and go through seven more years post-grad. So I came out here, and researched law, and kind of fell in love with the idea of it.”

Once an athlete, always an athlete, however, and Ashmore has already figured out what type of law she would most like to delve into.

“I’m looking at sports law. Hopefully I can represent athletes down the line. I feel like I can communicate with athletes, understand athletes, I grew up being an athlete,” said Ashmore. “There’s a very specific way to talk to athletes, and understanding their minds, and the way they work. I know I want sports to play a role in the rest of my life, so that’s my plan.”

Georgia definitely played an important role in helping Ashmore determine the path she wants to take in the pursuit of her career. But after her mind was set on law, it was only a matter of time before Georgia was in her rear-view.

“After UGA, I transferred out here and got an internship with the Tennis Channel. I fell in love with Santa Monica, Los Angeles,” said Ashmore. “Life is a lot slower in Georgia, the South in general is a lot slower, a little calmer. LA is obviously a lot faster, but it’s just so beautiful on the West Coast. I fell in love with the area, the beach, and the lifestyle out here.”

It’s easy to fall in love with the beauty of California. But it’s usually a little harder to fall in love with SMC. Especially when you show up for classes on the first day and find yourself circling the parking structure for an hour.

But for Ashmore, SMC offered an experience she was not familiar with; interaction and relationships with teachers that went far beyond class lectures. After braving classes at Georgia, that would sometimes stuff as many as 400 students in a single class, Ashmore was surprised by how much access she had to her professors at SMC.

While at SMC, Ashmore has earned a reputation as a top contender for the women’s tennis team. With the experience she brings to the table, she was one of the biggest reasons for the Corsairs undefeated regular season.

Despite their perfect regular season, the Corsairs were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Riverside City College Tigers.

“We had a long tournament the weekend before, and we were all exhausted. I think if we could have played that first round over, it would have been different,” said Ashmore. “But the season was amazing. We got really lucky with our group of girls. We all just bonded, and became a family. I think that’s why we did so well actually, we love playing with each other.”

Ashmore will now take her talents across town to California State University, Los Angeles, as she continues her pursuit of a law degree, as well as honing her craft on the court.

“They have a very strong program, I think they’re ranked 19th in the nation, D2,” said Ashmore. “Billy Jean King played there and she’s still very much involved with their program, which is great. The coach is amazing and they’re very established, which is why I chose to go there.”

With such an impressive resume on the court, it begs the question whether Ashmore will ever try her hand in the professional ranks. Although law may be the most likely path for Ashmore moving forward, she still has not ruled out a possible run on the professional level.

“I thought about it and still think about it. It would be very much of a lifestyle change," said Ashmore. "Right now I’m thinking law school is what I want to do, but it’s still on my mind. It’s a huge commitment; it’s your job at that point. It would be tennis all day, every day, and playing every weekend.”

If a pro-career is truly a possibility one day for Ashmore, the tutelage and expertise she has received along the way, will no doubt be the key to the next level. Aside from being raised by a tennis pro, she attributes part of the growth in her game to SMC Head Coach Richard Goldenson.

“Coach Goldenson is great. He’s a very cerebral coach. He’s all about strategy, and being a smart player,” said Ashmore. “In the conference championship, I had to completely change my game and it was his idea. He watched my opponent, saw her weaknesses, told me what to do, and it worked. It’s like a game of chess, and he’s very smart coach, and a very smart player. I don’t think I could have won a couple of my matches without him. He’s a great person to look up to.”

It’s going to be quite a blow to the SMC women’s tennis program to lose a player as important as Ashmore. But if the returning players can replicate the magical run this season, and If they can learn from their mistakes, they have a real shot at that elusive state title.