Just about from birth, Thomas Deucher '20 was destined to be a Wildcat.
Both his father, Michael '86, and his grandfather, Robert '58, graduated from Saint Ignatius High School. Deucher also has two older brothers who walked the halls of Wildcat High (Chris '16 and Will '18), along with a younger brother (Matthew '22) rounding out a distinguished family of Ignatians.
Thomas follows in the footsteps of his grandpa, dad, and brothers. But he's forged his own path at Saint Ignatius. He's developed a reputation as a hard worker and a leader in the classroom and on the tennis court. Deucher's classmates and teammates follow his example, striving to be like Thomas.
Tennis season has been nixed, along with other spring sports, per the governor's orders. But Deucher's legacy and work ethic is already cemented and will propel him to great things in the near and distant future.
Deucher always knew he would attend Saint Ignatius, but that didn't mean the butterflies stayed away during his freshman season. As tryouts neared, Deucher was quite nervous, as you might expect any freshman would be. But Deucher had never tried out for a team before, so the nerves on the first day were heightened.
In the end, Deucher didn't need to be worried. He made the team and started to make some friends. His new teammates turned out to be nice, and his coaches ensured that everything worked smoothly without a hitch.
During his first season as a Wildcat, Deucher connected with Cindy Reagan, then a JV tennis coach. The veteran math teacher taught Deucher about the mental side of the game during his time on the junior varsity squad.
"Mrs. Reagan was super nice," Deucher said. "The senior van rides were so much fun, especially with some of the seniors. But Mrs. Reagan taught us how to do yoga, and to focus on finding peace inside and outside. Tennis is a mental game. You need to calm yourself and get into the right rhythm and headspace."
Following a successful freshman campaign with the JV Cats, Deucher worked incredibly hard in the offseason.
Deucher soon discovered that he lived only 10 minutes away from Brian Zhu '18. Now a student at Lehigh, Zhu was a cornerstone of a dominant Saint Ignatius program that sent 5 players to the OHSAA State Tournament in 2017. Zhu took Deucher under his wing, practicing with the youngster and becoming a mentor to him.
But this was not a one-way relationship. Deucher provided inspiration for Zhu, as Deucher took up tennis late in grade school, but worked incredibly hard to make up for lost time. The duo often played together 4-5 hours a day during the summer.
"Deucher and I would hit every day for hours on end, constantly training and pushing to reach the next level," Zhu said. "Often times, I recall hitting until midnight on courts lit by nothing except moonlight and a streetlamp. The dedication that he put in during this time honestly inspired me to continue pushing my game as well. His attitude on the court really is just a reflection of how he is as a person. He's honest and hard-working."
Thanks in part to grinding over the summer, Deucher earned a promotion to the varsity level for the 2018 season. But as a sophomore on varsity, nothing was handed to him.
Deucher rotated with three people on the No. 2 doubles team, so he played about half the time and watched the other half. That's not an easy role for all athletes. A lesser young man might root for his teammates to fail, so he could get more court time. Not Thomas.
"I mixed him in here and there, which can be a frustrating thing. It's subjective, and you're trying to figure out combinations as a coach," said head coach Bobbe Bennett. "But he handled it well. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever coached. He stayed after practice and worked on the weekends to improve."
Indeed, Deucher made the best of the situation and absorbed all he could from a team that sent an incredible five players to the State Tournament.
"It was a good experience," Deucher said. "It gave a good balance to people who were playing and not playing. Watching the team play was a good learning experience and team building. I was happy to play and be on the team. Also, guys like Brian, Richie Hofstra '18, Drew Barclay '19, and Jack McNally '19 were super open and helpful."
Zhu calls it a great season, as he clinched a spot in the state tourney again. But more importantly, he enjoyed the time with his friend and teammate.
"Deucher ended up making varsity my senior year, in which I was captain, and I will never forget that season as it was the most fun and most competitive tennis I have ever had in my life," Zhu said.
With the graduation of Zhu and other veterans, a spot opened for Deucher on the first doubles team in the spring of 2019. After a very productive offseason, Deucher seized the opportunity.
For much of the season, Deucher paired with Jack McNally '19. The two tore things up, showcasing outstanding skill together. Deucher enjoys playing in duos, as he enjoys being at the net and the opportunities that sport offers.
For the postseason, McNally paired up with Kai Vesikallio '22, while Deucher combined with Kenny Li '21. The duo experienced a tough draw at the District Tournament and was bounced in the opening round. But for Deucher, disappointment did not linger.
"I think about the concept of winning a lot. In a match, there's one winner and one loser. If the loser always has a negative experience, then half of the competitors walk away negatively, which stinks," Deucher said. "You need to draw positives out of losing. Going into the postseason, Kenny and I didn't have too many chances to practice together. But I was impressed with how Kenny stepped up in the postseason. He handled himself well, even after losing a big point. Keeping your cool is so important. He was nice to play with."
At year's end, Bennett was very impressed at Deucher's development.
"He grew by leaps and bounds from sophomore to junior year," Bennett said. "He comes in as one of our top doubles players by far. That shows a lot of what he did off the court."
Leading into his senior season, Deucher kept working extremely hard. He cemented his role as the No. 1 doubles player on the squad, working on improving every day.
His leadership skills also emerged, as Arjun Brahmbhatt '20 noticed. The two are very good friends. They spend lots of time together on and off the court, learning plenty from each other.
"Thomas is a very good leader, he's very focused," said Brahmbhatt. "If he plays a bad match, he'll practice more and more. He doesn't let anything get in his way. His philosophy is, 'I want this, I'm going to work hard and go get this.' He's a very nice person. He's funny and great to hang out with."
Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 has prematurely ended Deucher's and Brahmbhatt's careers with the Wildcats. They're experiencing the heartbreak of a dream taken away.
It's particularly heart-wrenching for Deucher. This was supposed to be his year. A state tournament bid looked to be within reach after years of working to this goal.
But Deucher refuses to be downtrodden. His attitude is inspiring.
"You can only control what you can. You can't get hung up on it emotionally if you can't control it," Deucher said. "If there's an ace and you can't return it – the ball barely hits the net and rolls over – there's nothing you can do, so why get mad? You push yourself to be better, but you don't get mad. No one can control coronavirus. It's out of our control. How do we respond? How do you become better?"
Bennett will miss coaching the Strongsville native.
"Thomas is very serious, if you tell him something, he'll do it to a T to attain that goal. He puts his nose down and goes to work," Bennett said. "If he had a goal, he wanted to attain it. He would be the first one to send out a group workout and have everyone on board during the offseason. That shows his drive and character."
As for Deucher, he enjoyed playing for Bennett, as well.
"She doesn't use the word can't. It's always 'We can do this, this is possible,'" Deucher said. "When we face University School, she doesn't use the word wouldn't. She said, 'Let's see what we can do. Always a chance.' She doesn't negative words, and that's great."
Unfortunately, Deucher's tennis career at Wildcat High is over, but tennis will not define him.
Deucher will be attending Purdue University in the fall, planning on majoring in engineering.
Deucher's decision did not surprise his teachers. Just ask Jon Barker '87. The math teacher and former tennis coach speaks very highly of "Deuchs," a student of his AP Calculus BC and his Multivariable Calculus classes.
"Deuchs is a surprisingly deep-voiced, thoughtful, kind, quietly-funny, tennis-playing math stud," Barker said. "He embodies everything Saint Ignatius High School strives to form – he is kind, mature, friendly, intelligent, and hard-working. Tommy’s in-class performance mirrors his work on the tennis court. He has an excellent mind for math and seems to truly enjoy pushing his mathematical limits. His natural intelligence is happily paired with a killer work ethic. Deuchs combines a tireless work ethic with curiosity and a first-rate intellect. Paired with an easy-going, friendly nature, those qualities guarantee great things from him in college, where he plans to apply his love of math and problem solving to engineering."
Dennis Arko, an English teacher and Model United Nations lead advisor, could not concur more heartily. Last year, Deucher served as Secretary General of the Saint Ignatius Model UN Club, and did an excellent job in the role.
"I have had the pleasure to coach Thomas both in the classroom and outside the classroom. He's gutsy, undaunted, and quite the nicest thing about him is his humility," Arko said. "He is "the boy next door. The term “boy-next-door” is a prototype that is often used in novels to describe a male character that is young, wholesome, average-looking and likeable who “lives next door”. He's usually defined as the type of guy any girl can have a crush with or a good boy who is worthy of every parent's trust. Last year when he served as Secretary General of the Saint Ignatius High School Model United Nations Club, he certainly had my trust. He had the confidence of the other club members and, significantly, their genuine affection."
Before he heads to Purdue and an incredibly bright future, Deucher has a few thank you's to say.
"The community of the school and the team have been great," Deucher said. "My parents and team parents have been super important. All of the parents on the team have been super supportive, with food and drinks, and being part of the team. They were super fun to be around and good to talk to. My parents and the team parents have gone the extra mile.
"Also, thank you to my teammates, classmates, and teachers. Mr. Arko helped to build my leadership, public speaking skills, and how I see the world. Dr. Caputo helped me to not hate writing, as her comments made me believe that I could write, and like it in some cases. And Mr. Barker helped to teach me about priorities. When you have your priorities straight in life, everything goes from there."