When the ball machine was loaded, Tumwater High School tennis coach Jim Click issued a caution.
“Everybody watch out. Ty’s going to hit over there,” he said.
Fair warning. Neither Click, nor most high school players — even Ty Gentry’s mom, April — are particularly eager to be opposite him on a tennis court.
“He can spin it in directions I’ve never seen before,” Click said. “He has ball control that I’ve never seen in a high school player.”
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Gentry, a 6-foot-5 senior at Tumwater, will visit the Nordstrom Tennis Center at the University of Washington in Seattle on May 27-28 in pursuit of his third consecutive Class 2A state championship.
He won his first as a sophomore at Capital in 2014, his second with Tumwater last year.
“It was nerve-wracking the end of last year going into state, I was kind of nervous — got to keep the streak alive,” Gentry said. “I take it as a challenge. I like it. It’s motivation for me to do well.”
The streak remains unblemished. Gentry hasn’t lost a high school match since his freshman year at Capital — and that was in the 2A state championship.
“I really wanted to win all four years, but it didn’t happen and I’m OK with that,” Gentry said. “The kid who beat me, Avery (West), played really well when I was a freshman. It was good for him, and I’ve bounced back.”
Gentry is the No. 12 tennis recruit in the nation, according to tennisrecruiting.net. He’s headed to Oregon next fall on a full-ride scholarship, and he’s frequently trained with and played against other premier junior tennis players in the state — many of whom don’t play for their high school teams.
But Gentry enjoys the atmosphere. He doesn’t duck opportunities to run drills with his Tumwater teammates after school.
“They can handle my best stuff,” he said, trotting off the court during a doubles drill after giving up a point.
Not many can handle Gentry’s best stuff. His athleticism has proved unmatchable. He consistently serves between 120 and 130 mph, and his speed and length are threatening across the court.
“He passed a kid up on a net post once,” Click said. “He kind of pulled out wide, and the kid was in really good position, but he kind of came up under the ball and whipped it. The ball went real high up around the net post and hit the back of the court.
“Everyone went, ‘What was that? How did that even happen?’ ”
Click — who has coached at Tumwater for 23 years — said Gentry is widely recognized by local coaches as the best player to pass through the area. He’s continuing to build on that reputation.
“I’ve just been working on being more aggressive,” Gentry said. “I’ve always relied on my defense, that’s kind of always been what I’ve fallen back on. Now, going toward college level, I’m going to have to be more aggressive and kind of take over and control points.”
He’s shown he can do that already. But Click wouldn’t say he has zero confidence he could win a point off of Gentry.
“I sometimes get lucky and hit a weird shot that spins right and he might not be able to get to it. … I think it would have to be the perfect combination of things and him tripping,” Click joked. “I think he’d have to fall over.”
The same is true for Gentry’s mom, April Gentry.
“If I win (a point), you’d have thought I just won Wimbledon,” she said. “He creates an error, or I hit some misfit thing over the net.”
April, 45, has been playing about as long as her son has. A former volleyball player at Western Washington University, she picked up the sport so the two could enjoy it together.
“When we go to tournaments, she can coach me, basically, because she’s been at every practice listening to what the coaches say,” Ty Gentry said. “I know I can trust her insight and everything she does. She’s my biggest fan. She’s always there supporting me.”
Plenty has changed since Gentry, back when he was still playing football, decided he was going to be the quarterback for the Ducks. For one, his tennis racket is twice the size of the Wilson Blade he had when he was three years old.
“I never thought it would all come to fruition,” April Gentry said.
But soon she’ll send her son off to Eugene to play tennis at a Division I school.
“He wanted a town that was all about the college, where everybody supported athletics and academics,” she said.
“It’s like a bigger Tumwater, almost, in a sense,” Ty Gentry said. “Everyone loves sports. Sports are huge at this school. But they also really focus on academics and make sure that’s all squared away.”
The similarities, really, are endless. Gentry’s wardrobe won’t change much — green and yellow. The mascots both have wings. Tumwater prides itself on winning, while Oregon has been touted for its “Win the Day” slogan.
“It’s all perfect,” Gentry said. “It’s just a perfect situation.”
Nils Schyllander, who will be Gentry’s coach at Oregon, said he has plenty of untapped potential.
“With Ty, obviously there is tons of athletic ability there,” Schyllander said. “I love his energy and his passion. Once we get to hone in his skills, I think he’s going to be a huge addition to the program. … Once he gets into our program, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Gentry plans to major in business at Oregon, but is eyeing a professional tennis career once he finishes his degree.
“The way they coach (at Oregon) is really intense,” Gentry said. “The players out there, they all want to get better. They all see themselves playing tennis past college. Just that kind of pro style, as in, they all want to see what they can do at the pro level.
“That’s what I want to do when I’m older and out of college.”
Just one more high school state singles title to shoot for before all of that.
“The way he’s been hitting, he’s been preparing for college tennis, which gives him an advantage, too, over some of the kids he’ll be playing against, who are honestly good high school players,” Click said. “To get to state you have to be good. But he’s preparing for a D-I school. That’s crazy. It’s just a whole different deal.”
Click said he thinks Gentry will execute the same way he did last year, when he handily beat Olympic’s Tye Loan, 6-1, 6-0. Gentry enjoys the challenge of winning three in a row.
“That’s a big opportunity and it’s exciting,” Gentry said. “Not a lot of people get to say they’ve done that. It’s definitely something I want to do. So, hopefully I can go do it.”