July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Tennis: Dunbar is all-time great

Cloverleaf's Jacob Dunbar is the 2013 Gazette boys tennis MVP. Dunbar went undefeated on his way to winning the Division I state singles championship. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE)

Cloverleaf junior Jacob Dunbar truly put together a season for the ages in 2013, capturing every possible trophy while setting the Medina County record for victories.

The three-time Gazette boys tennis MVP dominated the competition from start to finish, completing his 36-0 campaign by winning the Division I state singles championship in straight sets.

It was the first state singles crown won by a Medina County player in the 94-year history of the state tournament — and sent officials and athletic directors digging into the record books to find comparable performances.

Their consensus: Dunbar’s season was among the finest in state history and arguably the most impressive in the last quarter-century.

“So many coaches either called or texted me after Jacob won the state title, just to say he is a well-deserving champion — and I totally agree,” Colts coach Mike McGee said. “You’re not going to find a more well-deserving champion than he was this season.

“It’s rare that opposing teams feel good about another school winning the title, but that’s honestly what happened with Jacob.”

Indeed, it was.

Immediately after the University of Richmond recruit won the state final — 6-1, 6-1 over Walsh Jesuit junior Aaron Sandberg — he was mobbed by other players in front of the grandstand at the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center.

Sandberg insisted on taking a photo with Dunbar before leaving the court. So did fourth-place finisher Canyon Teague of Gahanna Lincoln, Division II runner-up Patrick Wildman of Cincinnati Country Day and several coaches.

It was a remarkable display of respect, but completely appropriate when one considers how methodically Dunbar worked his way through the field.

“Obviously, you want your players to win, but it’s hard not to be happy for a kid like Jacob,” Walsh Jesuit coach Rocco Cona said. “He’s such a great player, you want to see him do well.”

Sandberg agreed, saying, “We’ve been good friends for a long time, and he comes from such a great family. He deserved to win.”

Dunbar was the tournament’s sentimental favorite from the moment he arrived in Columbus because of his personality and upbringing.

On another level, though, the 6-foot-1 redhead was under tremendous pressure, knowing he was a marked man in his final opportunity to win the state crown.

An equally outstanding student, Dunbar graduated from Cloverleaf one full year early in order to begin his NCAA D-I career with the Spiders in the fall.

Ultimately, that convergence of events allowed him to complete an unprecedented weekend for a county athlete. The 17-year-old right-hander won the state singles championship on June 1 in Columbus, then received his high school diploma with honors at the Cloverleaf Recreation Center the next afternoon.

“It was kind of a crazy couple days when you think about it, but that was God’s plan for me,” said Dunbar, whose career record with the Colts was 97-5.
“The best part, though, wasn’t winning the state final or the graduation ceremony. It was having my brother (Ethan), sister (Emily), parents (Keith and Vicki), and so many more family and friends with me to share it with. Really, I couldn’t have asked for anything more special.”

Nor could his immediate family members, all of whom were either smiling broadly or choking back tears as Jacob completed his dream season.

Vicki (Nelson) Dunbar was a three-time state champion at Wooster High and had a lengthy career on the WTA Tour, while Keith Dunbar coached the sport professionally for many years.

Three-time state qualifier and four-time Gazette MVP Ethan Dunbar will be a redshirt junior at Richmond this fall, where his teammates will include his younger brother and Teague. Emily Dunbar is an incoming freshman at Cloverleaf, where she hopes to add to her brothers’ seven straight Suburban League titles.

Watching them share in Jacob’s celebration at state was a scene that no one in attendance will soon forget.

“I think Jacob is beautiful to watch on the court because he’s very fluid and I love his ground strokes,” said Vicki Dunbar, who also is an assistant coach with the Colts. “But what makes me even prouder is his demeanor. He has never been a poor sport and is so humble.

“Having players tell me they look up to him means more to me as his mother than you can imagine.”

Prior to capturing the biggest prize in Ohio high school tennis this spring, Dunbar earned his third straight SL Tournament title, his third Medina Sectional crown and his first Oberlin College District championship.

Sandberg was the only player to win a set off him all season, but still decisively lost the district final, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Dunbar also beat the Warriors’ standout in the sectional championship, 6-1, 6-0.

All told, Dunbar went 20-0 in the regular season, 3-0 at the SLT, 5-0 at sectionals, 4-0 at district, and 4-0 at state. He won 60-of-61 games during his title run at sectionals, which is another feat that might not be duplicated for a long time.

Ditto for Dunbar’s three straight state singles berths, which broke the county mark of two that was shared by Cloverleaf’s Ethan Dunbar and Medina’s Patrick Thompson.

“I don’t really think about my individual accomplishments too much, but I’m sure I’ll appreciate them quite a bit in the future,” he said. “I know that I’m nothing without the talents I’ve been given by God, which is why I try to represent myself in His name at all times.”

In turn, Dunbar has made a name for himself as the county’s greatest tennis player of all time.

He’s done it with class and grace, which is why the United States Tennis Association’s Midwest Section awarded him with the Wallace R. Holzman Sr. Award for tennis success, character, conduct, sportsmanship and amateurism in April.

One year earlier, the National Honor Society member won the John Harlow Sportsmanship Award, as voted on by OHSAA commissioners, the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association, and boys tennis officials.

Dunbar genuinely is the total package, which is why it’s doubtful the county will ever see another boys tennis player at his level.

“Not in my lifetime,” McGee said. “I am sure we will have some very good players in Medina County, but to have the playing ability, sportsmanship, leadership, and class that Jacob has will probably never be matched. He truly is one of a kind.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.