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Originally published Monday, October 12, 2009 at 6:39 PM

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Kentridge tennis player is an ace with one-liners

Matt Overland, once misdiagnosed with Aspergers syndrome because of his erratic behavior, has a unique way of expressing himself whether he's painting, rapping or playing tennis.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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"Always alone, the deepest pit in the moon

No matter what, I'm always the darkest shade of a room

I'm always confused, I'm twisted and turned,

What is life about, a lesson I never learned."

KENT — Matt Overland crushes an overhead that explodes down the line.

"Awright, boy, awright!" he says, pumping a fist.

The Kentridge senior follows with an uncharacteristic error into the net.

"Ho! Ho! Ho! I'm Santa Claus," Overland says. "I just gave you a present."

He makes up for it with an untouchable ace.

"That's how I roll!"

Overland pauses, then offers, "Sorry."

His opponent doesn't flinch.

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"It doesn't bother me, I understand," Cole Jeter, his Auburn opponent that day, said after losing the tennis match 6-1, 6-0.

"Nothing but struggling, with red eyes and tears,

Scared of everything, lord when will I overcome these fears?

Growing up, with a knife straight up in my soul,

Everyone's warm, I'm the only one cold."

Matt Overland is one of the best high-school tennis players in the state, and one of the least understood — by those not familiar with the cause of his outbursts, that is. Most players, coaches and parents around the Puget Sound area realize he lacks control over his behavior.

Overland, who placed second at the 4A state tournament in singles last spring, once was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism that affects communication and social skills. But after further testing last year, his parents were told he has adaptive "processing" issues.

"In some social situations, you act inappropriately," his mother, Vera, explained.

She and her husband, Allan, did what most parents do when their son said or did something inappropriate as a youngster — they disciplined him. It didn't work. In middle school, tests led to the Aspergers diagnosis.

"For three years, that's what I thought I had," Matt said.

The Overlands took Matt to the University of Washington Autism Center for more extensive testing last year, which resulted in different findings.

Matt explains it simply: "I'm a little slow."

A little slow to get a joke, for instance, or comprehend an explanation.

"If I'm learning something new, it just takes me a little longer," said Matt, who earned a 3.73 grade average last spring. "But once I get it, I get it just as well, if not better, than everyone else."

He certainly gets tennis, which he learned from his father, the head teaching pro at the Boeing Employee's Tennis Club.

And he gets painting. And poetry. And rapping.

"He has a real creative streak," Vera Overland said.

It shows in the one-liners spectators might hear at his tennis matches:

• "I'm off the hook like a fish."

• "I'm hotter than my momma's spice wings."

• "I'll blow you away like a candle."

• "You're going down like gravity."

"I've got a hundred of them," said Matt, who calls himself Mattnificent.

"He's a good kid," Auburn coach Phil Smetheram said. "I don't know where he comes up with those. I've told him when he does, to let me know because I want to steal them and use them in my classroom."

Kentridge coach Bob Armstrong urges Matt to channel his energy if he gets out of hand. Two years ago, Matt got loud at a restaurant.

"I told him if he didn't settle down, he'd have to go out and run around the parking lot," Armstrong said. .

Replied Overland, "I don't know if I'm going to be able to do that, so I'm going to go run around the parking lot."

And that's what he did.

His darker side comes out in the poem he wrote, titled "Lost Romantic Guy."

"I was a quarter, tossed down a well,

Black and empty, the only life I could ever dwell.

My emotions are blue, my face is red,

My heart, my dreams, they all seem to be dead."

Tennis has been the perfect outlet, physically and emotionally.

Max Manthou, the three-time defending 4A state champion from Kentwood, calls Overland "the most unique individual I've ever met."

Manthou lost only one set in high school last year — to Overland.

"He's tenacious," Manthou said.

Simply off the hook.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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