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A game of love: Losing state title match won't deter Dunbar

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Less than an hour after falling 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-0 to Hathaway Brown’s Lauren Gillinov in the Division II state singles championship, Cloverleaf’s Emily Dunbar was back on a court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

This time, she was hitting with 23-year-old brother Ethan, who is now playing on the ATP World Tour.

“I just didn’t feel too good,” Dunbar said. “It was hard. I was playing well, but as the match went on, it went downhill and I lost 6-0 in the third set. It was nice to go out and hit with my brother and have some rhythm.”

That kind of dedication, not to mention a 34-1 record and the highest state finish for a female high school tennis player in Medina County history, is why the Cloverleaf junior now owns three Gazette MVP awards.

It’s also why the 16-year-old will once again be a legitimate state title contender in 2016, when she could again meet two-time champion Gillinov, who lost in three sets to Dunbar in sectional and district finals this year.

“Any time you lose or fall short of a goal you want to achieve, it’s difficult,” Ethan Dunbar said. “But if you focus too much on a negative result — or even a positive result — you won’t remember what your ultimate goal is. You have to focus on the process and always try to get better.”

Not many do that better than Emily Dunbar, who is humble, level-headed and as big-picture-oriented as they come.

She knows better than anyone that she was up a set, serving at 5-4, 30-15 and two points from joining her other brother, Jacob, who won the boys D-I singles crown in 2013 while at Cloverleaf, as a state champion.

She also knows she lost that game and the eight that followed, but that doesn’t mean nearly fulfilling a dream suddenly turned into a nightmare.

“I didn’t feel too good, but you can’t worry about it,” Dunbar said. “Maybe it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it felt good to get to the finals. It was a lot better than my previous two years, so I’m happy.”

Dunbar never mentioned it until asked, but three times in the state final, her calls were overturned by the chair umpire.

The first came at 4-2, 40-15 in the first set, meaning the 5-foot-5, 130-pound right-hander would have been up 5-2, building momentum and likely not eventually involved in a tiebreaker, which she won 8-6.

The other two came in what proved to be the match-turning second set, but Dunbar absolutely refuses to use them as an excuse.

“Obviously, it affects you a little bit because you lose that point,” she said. “You can’t worry about it. It happens all the time.”

This is where the even-keeled Dunbar, the realistic, big-picture Dunbar, meets the perfectionist Dunbar, the extremely driven and competitive Dunbar.

To fully understand, some background is necessary.

Dunbar went 28-3 in each of her first two school tennis seasons and reached the D-I state quarterfinals both times, earning her second-team All-Ohio honors.

Now 90-7 for her career, she worked extremely hard on her game all winter, spring and summer and reached the round of 16 at the under-16 clay-court nationals in Virginia Beach.

“High school tennis is a small part of her entire career,” Ethan Dunbar said. “Everyone looks at high school tennis as the thing, but, to be honest, in Emily’s situation, she made the final 16 of the national clay courts. That is basically the biggest tournament in the country. She’s probably more proud of that than she would be if she won a state title.”

Asked about her oldest brother’s comment, Emily Dunbar laughed and said, “He’s probably right.”

But like everyone in her family did before her, Dunbar loves playing high school tennis and being part of a team.

“I play to support my school,” she said. “Normally, I’m just playing for myself the rest of the year at tournaments. It’s nice to be able to support my school.”

Then Dunbar revealed something that might shock the average fan, especially considering she won her first 34 high school matches this season, including 27 without losing a game — and one without losing a point. Included were Medina Sectional and Akron District titles, the first of her illustrious prep career.

“I felt like I wasn’t playing my game most of the season, actually,” she said. “I wasn’t doing enough with the ball.”

Dunbar was winning 6-0, 6-0, though, so not many people noticed outside of her mother Vicki, who won three state titles at Wooster High and played professionally for 10 years, father Keith, who has taught the sport in 26 countries, and her brothers.

Only people with that type of background in the sport — Ethan played at the University of Richmond, Jacob is still at the school and Emily will play there after graduating from Cloverleaf in 2017 — would notice the groundstrokes didn’t have quite the same angle, that the follow through wasn’t quite as good as it was against better competition in the summer.

“You have to focus on what you’re doing,” Emily Dunbar said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. You have to keep thinking.”

It’s hard, though, when only a handful of players in the state have a legitimate shot of beating you, even when you’re not playing your best.

But Dunbar, who carries a 4.3 grade-point average, knew all along. She came close to winning a state championship anyway, which is a testament to just how driven and talented she is, but Gillinov finally got the better of her in their third postseason meeting.

“You can learn from any loss,” Ethan Dunbar said. “She’ll get better from it. It’s just managing those situations. You can’t let it bother you. Things happen in a match. Whatever it is, if you lose that game at 5-4, you have to have a short-term memory.

“Emily’s usually pretty good at it, but it’s not easy. She was fine afterward. Obviously, she wanted to win. She’s really competitive. But you win some, you lose some. She just moved on.”

Moving on meant first heading back to a Lindner Family Tennis Center court with Ethan before the Cloverleaf contingent made the 3-plus-hour trip home.

“She didn’t want to talk too much about (the state final match), but she wanted to go hit,” Cloverleaf coach Brenda Hewit said. “She wanted to get it out of her system, so she and Ethan hit some down there before we started driving home.

“That’s all she knows, pretty much. And she loves it.”

Gazette MVPs

  • Emily Dunbar (C) 2015
  • Emily Dunbar (C) 2014
  • Emily Dunbar (C) 2013
  • Ali Garrity (M) 2012
  • Ali Garrity (M) 2011
  • Ali Garrity (M) 2010
  • Ali Garrity (M) 2009
  • Layne Connolly (W) 2008
  • Amanda McGee (C) 2007
  • Katy Marshall (M) 2006
  • Katy Marshall (M) 2005
  • Maria Burns (H) 2004
  • Jamie Schofield (M) 2003
  • Jaclyn Spirtos (H) 2002
  • Verena Steigerwald (C) 2001
  • Pennie Spirtos (H) 2000
  • Pennie Spirtos (H) 1999
  • Suzanne Batten (M) 1998
  • Suzanne Batten (M) 1997
  • Suzanne Batten (M) 1996
  • Isabel Benrath (Bru) 1995
  • Lindsay Conners (M) 1994
  • Lindsay Conners (M)/ Shannon Christopher (Bru) 1993
  • Lindsay Conners (M) 1992
  • Annmarie Kelly (M) 1991
  • Annmarie Kelly (M) 1990
  • Beth Schaefer (M) 1989
  • Beth Schaefer (M) 1988
  • Beth Schaefer (M) 1987
  • Shannon McPeak (Bru) 1986



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