June 27, 2016

Mostly sunny

Cloverleaf’s Jacob Dunbar makes history at state championship

Jacob Dunbar’s destiny is now complete. So is his high school tennis career, which ended in spectacular fashion on Saturday afternoon.

The Cloverleaf junior captured the Division I state singles championship with a 6-1, 6-1 sweep of Walsh Jesuit junior Aaron Sandberg in the final in Columbus.

Jacob Dunbar is the first tennis singles player in Medina County history to win the state title. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY BRIAN DULIK)

Dunbar never lost his serve — breaking Sandberg five times — in putting an exclamation point on his undefeated 36-0 campaign at the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center.

“I had a couple of hiccups today, but I felt confident from the start and I felt like I played very well, which is all that I could have asked for,” said Dunbar, who won the final six games in the second set.

“The state tournament is so special because you’re representing your school and your part of the state, I wanted everything to be perfect. And it really was for me because my brother and sister and parents and family and friends were all here to share it with me.”

The 6-foot-1 redhead opened the match with an ace, then ended it with an overhead smash from the right service box. It was the most lopsided state singles final since 2004, when Centerville’s Justin Kronauge also claimed gold 6-1, 6-1.

Dunbar had previously defeated Sandberg to win the Medina Sectional and Oberlin College District titles, doing so by 6-1, 6-0 and 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 scores, respectively. The latter match marked the lone set that the University of Richmond recruit lost during the season.

“We each learned a lot about each other’s games along the way, but in the end, Jacob deserved this,” Sandberg said. “I’m really happy for him because he’s a good friend and a great kid. If I couldn’t win state today, I’m glad that he did. I truly mean that.”

Dunbar opened the day with a 6-3, 6-4 semifinal victory over Gahanna Lincoln senior Canyon Teague, who will join him in playing NCAA D-I tennis with the Spiders this fall. Also in attendance was current Richmond standout Ethan Dunbar, Jacob’s older brother, who was a three-time state qualifier for the Colts.

Sandberg advanced to the final with a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(2) win over Upper Arlington senior Stuart Little, who subsequently defeated Teague 6-3, 6-3 in the third-place match.

“Sandberg is an awesome player, but Jacob managed to beat him three weeks in a row,” Cloverleaf coach Mike McGee raved. “I hope people realize what he has just accomplished. It’s great for Cloverleaf, it’s great for Medina County and it’s great for Northeast Ohio boys tennis.”

Strong south-to-north winds in Columbus greatly affected the afternoon contests, forcing the players to adopt more conservative styles.

The action wasn’t pretty at times in D-II — numerous volleys were hit directly into the fences surrounding the courts — but Dunbar and Sandberg largely overcome the weather in the big-school finale.

There was no doubt that the two best players in Ohio were squaring off on Court 2, even if both admitted they had hoped for perfect conditions.

“I came in with the mindset that we weren’t going to be able to blast many winners today,” Dunbar said. “Wind makes things so difficult in tennis, especially when it’s coming right at you on the one side of the court, so you’ve got to play smart. We gave it our all to try and play our best, though.”

Cloverleaf’s Jacob Dunbar receives his state championship medal from Ohio High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner Roxanne Price. Colts coach Mike McGee looks on. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY BRIAN DULIK)

Dunbar painted the back line with a forehand winner to claim the first game, but Sandberg held serve to even the opening set at 1. The Warriors’ standout was broken the next two times he stepped behind the line, even double-faulting at game point to make it 5-1.

Sandberg, though, bounced back strong to start the second set. He won the first game and had a game point that could have put Dunbar down 2-0, but the three-time state qualifier took the next three points, finishing up with an ace.

Just five games later, the match was over and Dunbar had broken the county record for wins in a season with 36. The previous mark of 35 was set by Ethan Dunbar three years ago, when he finished fourth at the state tournament.

Medina’s Patrick Thompson also finished fourth in singles in 2001, which stood as the top finishes by a county player until this spring. Thompson and Mike Noreika won the state Division I doubles title in 2000.

Dunbar became a state champion on Saturday and received his diploma — one full year early — with academic honors at the Cloverleaf Rec Center on Sunday. As far as weekends go, they don’t get much better than that.

“When it got to 4-1 in the second set, I started crying because I didn’t want it to end,” said Colts assistant coach, longtime WTA Tour professional, and Jacob’s mother, Vicki Dunbar. “Jacob worked so hard for this moment and I was so proud of him, but at the same time, it was the last match we were ever going to watch him play for Cloverleaf.

“It’s hard to believe it’s over, but it ended in the best way anyone could have dreamed of, and that’s going to make us smile for a long time.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.