A common thread runs between tennis player Ethan Vaughn and his coach at Mead, Bill Wagstaff.
Both began as baseball players who found ultimate success and satisfaction after trading bat for racquet, horsehide for a fuzzy green ball, fence for net.
Wagstaff gave up baseball in high school at Ferris and tennis paid for college at the University of Oregon.
“I played baseball my entire life,” Wagstaff said. “I started playing tennis the spring of eighth grade in P.E. and it was one of those serendipitous events. It was the best move I ever made.”
Similarly, Vaughn grew up playing baseball for his dad, Dave, and soccer before gravitating to tennis in elementary school. He gave up the former in seventh or eighth grade to concentrate on the latter.
Now a junior in high school, the blond, 6-foot-1, 150-pounder has been a two-time Panthers state qualifier – in singles as a freshman and doubles where he and partner Ethan Burns placed fourth last year.
His rise to a No. 9 ranking in the USTA Pacific Northwest 18U section this summer has been rather meteoric.
“I started last summer in 16s ranked maybe 30th,” Vaughn said. “I had to make the jump to 18s the beginning of August (when he turned 17) and was (initially) unranked.”
The transition from baseball legacy to tennis prodigy wasn’t necessarily easy from a family standpoint, even if his older siblings had played tennis in high school.
Ethan’s dad, a counselor at Mead and former Panthers baseball coach, had coached his son for several years on the diamond beginning at age 7.
“When he told me how would I feel if he gave up baseball, I said, ‘Where’s this coming from?’ ” Dave Vaughn said. “I had coached a fabulous group of boys. When Ethan gave up baseball to pursue this, at first it was a difficult transition for me. I couldn’t justify spending the time to coach a team during the summer if he was not on it.”
But Ethan had been around tennis when the racquet was as big as he was, and if his children love what they do, that’s what he is most excited about.
He recalled hearing a story by Mac Bledsoe about how he had dissected every aspect of a football game played by his son, former professional quarterback Drew. Afterward, Mac’s wife told him he’d have many coaches in his life, but only one son. It struck a chord.
Dave Vaughn has become a tennis fan, learning the game and tennis etiquette from his children.
“It was tough telling him I was losing interest in baseball,” Ethan said. “I’m sure he wanted me to play baseball. But he’s also proud to see me do what I wanted to do and get better at it.”
Ethan said he started hitting and began taking lessons in fourth or fifth grade at North Park Racquet Club, influenced by his sister Leah, who was in the midst of a three-time tennis state-qualifying run.
Although he’s never had a private coach, he’s had several tennis influences. The hand-eye correlation between baseball and tennis, a fiercely competitive nature and play against adults helped him to quickly excel. His increasing involvement on the USTA youth circuit has aided in his improvement.
“Ethan’s kind of the big dog now,” Wagstaff said. “He’s one of those kids who not only is a talented athlete – you have to have talent to make it – but also has a work ethic. Tennis is a sport where you have to put in a lot of time and can’t just rely on natural athletic ability.”
Wagstaff had watched Ethan prior to high school and saw not only his potential, but his competitiveness. How good he could become depended upon how the stars aligned, Wagstaff said.
Using a horse racing analogy, he said, “If you look at foals, lots have potential, but few go on to be good ones.”
Ethan has gone on. As a freshman, Ethan unexpectedly qualified for state by upsetting a fellow ninth-grader from Richland in singles. Now it would be an upset if he lost to him.
Last year, however, Wagstaff reasoned it would have been more difficult for the sophomore to return to state in singles, so they opted to pair him with Burns in doubles for a better chance. The pair won and lost at state, dropping into consolation to win twice and take fourth.
“He was one of my good friends and was going to graduate,” Ethan said. “I knew it was his best chance to get to state. It wasn’t too much of a switch. I’ve played a lot of doubles.”
As his game has evolved, so has the amount of time he’s put into it. Ethan’s gone from playing mainly in local tournaments to traveling throughout the region. He hopes to participate in national competitions. With each tournament he said he can feel himself improve.
“When you are playing those guys who are the best, even when you lose you take stuff away from the tournaments,” he said.
He calls himself a serve-and-volley player whose two biggest strengths are the ability to adjust in a match and his determination.
“I feel you need to go out there and be confident and continue to attack,” he said. “I play the style I want and dictate a match.”