Emily Dunbar wants to win a state tennis championship more than she can put into words. And she’s a young lady of few words to begin with.
“I want to win a lot, of course,” the soft-spoken 17-year-old said earlier this week.
A Division I state quarterfinalist as a freshman and sophomore and second in D-II last year, Dunbar will embark on her final opportunity to win a title when the state singles tournament begins Friday at 9 a.m. at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Dunbar, 27-2 this season and 117-9 over her star-studded career, finished third at the Medina District last week and will meet Toledo Central Catholic freshman Ava McQuillan, a second-place finisher at the Northwest District, in first-round play.
With a win there, Dunbar will likely meet Columbus School for Girls senior Marissa Madison, the Central District champion, in the quarterfinals.
A win there will likely bring another meeting with two-time defending state champ Lauren Gillinov of Hathaway Brown in the semifinals.
Gillinov beat Dunbar in three sets in the Medina District semifinals this year and in the 2015 state final — Dunbar was two points from victory in the second set, but ended up losing 6-0 in the third — but the three-time Gazette MVP defeated her archrival in the sectional and district finals a year ago.
“I feel like I played a lot better last week (at districts),” Dunbar said. “It was good to go through and I feel like I’m ready for this weekend.
“I’m fine with it,” she added of potentially meeting Gillinov in the semis. “Hopefully, I’ll have to play her. I have to beat her anyway (to win a state title), so it doesn’t really matter when I play her.”
There are five district champs at the D-II state tourney, but the favorites are widely considered to be Gillinov, Dunbar and Sandusky Perkins senior Olivia Rohrbacher, a Penn State recruit and four-time state qualifier who was second to Gillinov in 2014 (when Cloverleaf was still D-I) and fourth last year. The left-hander is in the opposite half of the draw and won’t have to play Gillinov or Dunbar until the state final.
“It will be a challenge, but each set she’s played, she’s gotten better and better,” Colts coach Brenda Hewit said of Dunbar. “I think she’s going to go into state feeling confident. She’s just going to have to play one match at a time.”
Dunbar has already successfully carried on her family’s great tennis history. Her mother, Vicki (Nelson) Dunbar, was a three-time state champ at Wooster and went on to play professionally. Her father, Keith, has taught tennis in 26 countries.
Oldest brother Ethan was a four-time Gazette MVP and finished fourth in the 2010 D-I state tourney as a senior. Brother Jacob, a three-time Gazette MVP, was the 2013 D-I state champ before graduating from Cloverleaf in three years.
Ethan, who is now playing professionally, and Jacob received scholarships to play at the University of Richmond, as has Emily Dunbar.
“It’s her last time down there (to the state tournament) and she’s going to give it all she’s got,” Hewit said. “If it works out, I think she’ll be thrilled. She’s just happy to make it down and play some good tennis.
“The family is so grounded. ... She knows, win or lose, in the big scheme of things, it’s just tennis.”
Fourteen when she made her first state appearance, the 5-foot-6 Dunbar doesn’t look back any more than she looks ahead.
“I think my tennis has improved a lot, especially in the last couple years,” she said. “That’s a good thing, I guess. It’s always good to improve.
“I guess I’m a little more grown up, but I don’t know that I’ve changed that much. I feel good. I’m just going to do my best and whatever happens, happens.”