COLUMBUS — Emily Dunbar is as easygoing as they come, so believe the talented Cloverleaf freshman when she says she doesn’t feel any pressure to uphold her family’s rich tennis tradition.
“I’ll just try to do my best,” said the 14-year-old, who will become the first Cloverleaf girl to participate in the state tournament when she faces Mason freshman Elizabeth Kong at 9 a.m. Friday in first-round Division I singles action at the OSU Outdoor Varsity Tennis Courts.
Dunbar is no stranger to the setting. She’s made the trip to Columbus six times to watch older brothers Ethan, who finished fourth in D-I singles play as a Cloverleaf senior in 2010, and Jacob, who won Medina County’s only state singles title in 2013 as a junior. Jacob graduated from Cloverleaf a year early in order to join Ethan at the University of Richmond.
Dunbar’s mother, Vicki, whose maiden name was Nelson, won three state titles (1977-79) while playing at Wooster and her father, Keith, has served as a teaching pro in 26 countries.
“I have a little experience with it, so it won’t be too uncomfortable for me,” Dunbar said. “It will help me that I’ve been down there before.”
Dunbar (27-2), who finished second at the Oberlin College District and is considered a four-star college player by the Tennis Recruiting Network, is familiar with Kong, the third-place finisher at the Mason District and a three-star college recruit. The two have never played in singles, but have met in doubles on several occasions.
“She’s aggressive,” Dunbar said. “She goes for a lot and hits the ball kind of hard. I’d say that style is a little better for me, because I try to be consistent.”
Should Dunbar win that match, she would be guaranteed at least second-team All-Ohio honors and would likely play senior Lauren Ghidotti of Columbus Bishop Watterson in the quarterfinals Friday. Dunbar has not played Ghidotti, who won the Hilliard Davidson District and is considered a four-star recruit, but has played her younger sister.
Should she win that match, Dunbar would play in the semifinals Saturday morning and be guaranteed first-team all-state honors, but she vows to take things one point at a time and says she hasn’t set any particular goals for this weekend.
“I’m just happy to make it to state,” the 5-foot-4, 110-pounder said. “I’m just going to do my best and see where that takes me.”
Dunbar is fully aware of her family’s tennis history and is open to any pointers she receives from her parents or brothers, but is quick to point out no one is placing any expectations on her.
“My mom hasn’t talked about it that much, but I’m sure she’ll give me some advice,” she said. “Same with my dad. I talked to (Ethan and Jacob) before districts on Saturday and I’ll probably talk to them before I play. They just try to encourage me and give me some advice.”
Dunbar’s only losses this season have come against Walsh Jesuit freshman Molly Sandberg, who beat her in the finals of the Oberlin College District and Medina Sectional.
Sandberg is in the other half of the draw, as are Bowling Green State University District champion Megan Miller of Sylvania Northview and Cincinnati Ursuline Academy’s Mehvish Safdar.
Safdar, who eliminated Medina’s Ali Garrity in the first round of the state tournament the last two years and will continue her career at the University of Minnesota, won the state doubles title with older sister Komal as a freshman, was the state singles champion as a sophomore and finished third in singles last year.
Prior to meeting any of those players in the state final, Dunbar would likely have to get by Kings Mills Kings senior Amina Ismail in the semifinals Saturday morning. Ismail, considered a four-star college recruit, beat five-star recruit Safdar in the Mason District final this year and lost to her in the third-place match at state last year.
The immediate task for Dunbar, though, is to beat Kong in the first round.
“I hope she’s not nervous and enjoys the experience and plays her game,” Cloverleaf coach Brenda Hewit said. “I don’t want her to have any pressure to reach a certain level. I just want her to play her game.
“I really think she’s capable. If she plays like she did in her semifinal match (at districts against Jackson’s Tessa Hill), there are no limits, really.”
Because there are a disproportionate number of schools in the four districts, not all send the same amount of players to the state tournament.
The Oberlin District, which represents the biggest region in Northeast Ohio, sent six singles players and six doubles teams, while Hilliard Davidson, which encompasses Central, East and Southeast Ohio, and Mason, which represents Southwest Ohio, sent four in each. Bowling Green, which encompasses Northwest Ohio, sent two singles players and two doubles teams.
All told, there are 16 singles players and 16 doubles teams at the D-I state tournament, which will resume Saturday at 9 a.m. with semifinal, final and third-place matches.
In the event of rain or other unplayable weather, matches will be moved indoors to the Elysium Tennis Center in Plain City.
Tickets for the tournament cost $8 per day.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.