Ty Gentry was a self-described “no-name kid” among the tennis community when he entered a national tournament as a 9-year-old.
Playing against some of the county’s top youngsters would be overwhelming for most, but whatever butterflies Gentry experienced that day quickly dissolved.
Big, shiny trophies have that effect on kids.
“It had to be 5-feet tall,” said Gentry, now a junior at Tumwater High School, about the tourney’s top prize. “I remember telling my mom, I wanted that trophy. She said, ‘Well, you just have to go out there and win it.’ ”
The young player no one knew proceeded to knock off the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the tournament.
Since then, Gentry’s national reputation, along with his trophy collection, has grown.
He looks to add to his hardware Friday when he attempts to become the first boy in a decade to win back-to-back Class 2A state tennis titles. Gentry will begin state tournament play at the Nordstrom Tennis Center in Seattle with a first-round match against Bremerton’s Cameron Dubos. Quarterfinals will also be contested Friday, while semifinal and final matches are slated for Saturday.
Unlike the last player to win consecutive 2A state titles, which was Foster’s Travis Johnson in 2004-05, Gentry attempts to accomplish the feat at different schools, winning last year’s crown while attending Capital before transferring to Tumwater.
“We have had a lot of talented players over the years,” Tumwater coach Jim Click said, “but none like Ty.”
Should Gentry successfully defend his championship, he will be the first Thunderbird to win a state tennis title since 1986 when Eric Rebitzer won the Class 3A crown.
“Ty plays at such a high level,” Click said. “It’s a different coaching style with him because you aren’t teaching fundamentals or stroke production. About all you can do is look for patterns, try to find weaknesses in his opponents that will help him. There’s not much he can’t do on the court.”
At 6-foot-5 and athletic, Gentry, who also started at guard on Tumwater’s district championship basketball team this year, would likely excel at any sport, but tennis got to him first.
“My grandmother first got me involved,” said Gentry, who recently committed to the University of Oregon. “She gave me a racket when I was 3.”
Gentry hasn’t put it down since. In addition to playing in tournaments throughout the country, Gentry has not dropped a high school match since losing in the 2A finals as a freshman.
“Coming into high school was a little daunting” Gentry said. “I wasn’t sure how I would fit in. Losing in the finals definitely fueled the motivation for last year.”
At last year’s state tournament he ran roughshod through the competition, winning each of his first three matches, 6-0, 6-0, before defeating Sammamish’s Ethan Romney, 6-3, 6-2, in the championship.
With a height increase and some added strength, Gentry has been even more dominant this season.
“He hasn’t played every match for us this year,” Click said. “We’ve held him out before because he’s so gifted he would simply overpower the competition, and that doesn’t help anyone.”
A semifinal match against Romney looms Saturday should both win their opening two rounds.
“We’ve known each other a long time. We’ve trained with each other,” Gentry said about Romney. “The skill level at high school is a lot different than what you see at the Northwest sectional or national levels, but once you reach the quarterfinals, semifinals at state you start seeing the players you play against there. So, the competition is tough.”
The T-Birds are also represented on the doubles side with Devin Reich and Cole Holbrook. Gentry’s play at last year’s state tournament, along with a fourth-place finish in doubles by the team of Travis Miller and Doug Doenges, helped Capital claim its first team title since 1992.
A similar finish by Gentry combined with a deep run from Reich and Holbrook could deliver the T-Birds the state championship this time around.
“The team aspect is what I enjoy most about high school tennis,” Gentry said. “You don’t get that when you play in at a regional or national tournament.”