Gross is national racquetball champLocal play won the 14-and-under age division in East Lansing.
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria’s Tanner Gross has gotten to the point where nerves are starting to subside and confidence is starting to take over.
That was not the case going into the 2009 Junior Olympics National Racquetball tournament in East Lansing, Michigan in late June. Gross won a Minnesota state title to earn his spot at the national tournament. Only here, he was one of 36 state champions in his 14-and under age division.
“I was nervous,” he said. “When I [came in], I thought ‘aww, I’m going to do OK,’ but then when I saw them warm up, I was like ‘crap, these kids can play just as good as I can.’ You couldn’t leave them any shots or they would put it away. There were no sluffs. They were all really good.”
Gross battled those nerves for the first few rallies before he settled in. Once he did, his opponent did not have a chance. Gross won his first match 15-2, 15-1 to set the tone for the rest of the tournament. He went on to win a national title in his division as the 30th seed, becoming the lowest seed to ever win a title in the 14-and under category.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Gross said. “It was the best feeling to know that out of 36 players, that I was even in the top five. It’s amazing.”
Gross drew some of the toughest competitors in the field in the early rounds because of his low seed. His only loss came in his second match against two time national and one time world champion Sam Reid of Portland, Oregon. It did not come easy for Reid with scores of 15-14, 14-15 and 11-7.
Gross rebounded from that by winning four straight matches in two games to win the title. He won 15-9, 15-4 to advance out of pool play. His quarterfinal and semifinal wins came just as easy before he finished off the championship with a 15-7, 15-4 win over his opponent from Boise, Idaho.
Gross, now 15 and a freshman to be at Jefferson High School this fall, first picked up a racquet when he was nine years old. Since then the sport has gone from a hobby to something he would like to pursue professionally if possible.
“When I first started, I thought it was going to be just a fun time to go whack the ball around,” he said. “I never knew until about two or three years ago that you could actually go pro and there were actually higher ends of racquetball than just club ball.
“When you first start out you think ‘I probably won’t be that good,’ but then after three or four years you think, ‘hey, I might have a shot at it.’ I don’t know.”
Gross has proven at a young age that he has the talent to justify those hopes of going pro. His strength comes in the middle of a rally when an opponent leaves a ball up. Rarely does a mistake go unpunished as he controls matches with his ability to put the ball low and in the corners.
“In the middle of a rally, if you give me a shot that I can kill, I can put it away almost all the time,” Gross said. “My serve is OK, but the biggest part of my game is rally and kill.”
That ability has helped him build quite a resume at a young age. Gross has beat men twice his age on his way to winning two state titles. He will try to build upon that as he looks to capture both state and national titles again next year as he moves up an age division.
Gross does not know how many titles he will have by the time he graduates from high school. What he does know is that he belongs on the same court as the best players across the country. Those nerves he felt in his first trip to nationals last month – they will be replaced with confidence going forward.
“Before every match, I say to myself ‘I deserve to be here because I’ve been working hard,” he said. “I’m a good player, and I’ve been working my butt off to be here, so I just go out there and play hard.”