Prior to the 2013 girls tennis season, and even as the season progressed, longtime Westlake coach Ralph Dunbar didn’t consider pairing two of his best players — his daughter and senior Julia Dunbar and sophomore Lindsey Golick — together as a doubles team for the postseason.
“It didn’t even cross our minds until about two weeks before the sectionals,” Coach Dunbar said. “It was Julia who came up with idea. Julia really wanted go down to states one last time as a senior, but she also wanted Lindsey, who has been her friend for a long time, to experience it with her. Lindsey spent many years watching her older sister (former state champion Lauren Golick) compete down there and we knew she wanted to experience it for herself.”
The duo played in exactly one regular-season match together. Prior to that, Julia Dunbar had put together a fantastic season at first singles, moving up to replace the graduated Lauren Golick, while Lindsey Golick – a district qualifier last season at doubles with Melissa Djohan – had primarily played third singles. Dunbar and Golick helped the Demons go undefeated in the Southwestern Conference and win the conference tournament, while also claiming individual conference titles.
But when the Division I sectional tournament began two weeks ago at Oberlin College, it was the team put together at the last minute that played as if it had been paired together for years, winning the sectional championship and qualifying for districts.
“When we’re on the court, we never really get frustrated with each other,” said Julia Dunbar, who became a two-time individual state qualifier (also at doubles) while also helping the Demons finish second in the team tournament as a freshman in 2010. “With doubles teams, that happens a lot, but we’ve never had that with each other.
“Our chemistry is built on friendship and it’s been a good bonding experience for us both on the court and off. I think it’s mutual – I’ve helped her and she’s helped me. I know it was one of my goals to get down to state my senior year and I know she’s been wanting to experience playing at state and follow in her sister’s footsteps, so I’d say we helped each other meet our own goals. That’s great that we could do that for each other.”
Two years ago, the roles were reversed, as Julia Dunbar was the sophomore playing with senior Michelle Djohan. The duo was the district runners-up and qualified for the state tournament in 2011. However, they lost to Hilliard Bradley juniors Lauren and Ashley Thai, 6-2, 6-1, in the first round.
“That time, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I knew a lot of people down there and there was a lot of pressure being down there. It was almost a standstill moment for me when the match started, but we relaxed as the match went on.
“I think I can get to that relaxed point earlier and I hope to God Lindsey can do that as well. I know she’ll be nervous, being her first time at state. But I’m going to do my best to help her out and get her relaxed.”
Golick was in the stands for the last four years, cheering on her sister as she tried to win a state championship – a feat she accomplished last year as a senior. Last weekend, as she and Dunbar made their run through districts, Lauren Golick took a break from her studies at Cleveland State and her playing with the women’s tennis team to return the favor and cheer on her sister and friend.
Dunbar and Golick will play Cincinnati Sycamore sophomores Alexa Abele and Maddie Skwara, the Southwest District champions, in Friday’s first round. Abele and Skwara qualified for the state tournament last season, but lost to eventual runners-up Sarah and Emma Stein from Dublin Jerome, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, in the first round.
“I would believe that their past experiences helped them with the belief that they could do it,” Coach Dunbar said. “Plus, their overall doubles experiences, with Julia at state and Lindsey being only a match away from going to state last year, played into that. I believe that when other teams out there note that you have that experience, you have a little bit an edge over them as well.
“The other thing, too, is that, as they continued to believe and fight through sectionals and districts, I’ve always seen a smile on their faces from the beginning of match to the end. We take it seriously, but at the end of the day, you take your shoes off and go forward to the next day. The No. 1 rule is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to win, and Julia and Lindsey genuinely are having fun playing with each other.”
“It’s something that I guess I can’t put words to, but it’s something I’ve wanted for her and for us to sort of be the pinnacle of her high school season ending,” he said. “I couldn’t see a better way of it ending than seeing her make state her senior year. She’s had a wonderful season and a wonderful career. If she would have lost at sectionals or districts, it still would have been a great season.”
Dunbar and Golick extend a streak of five consecutive years that at least one singles or doubles player from Westlake has made it to state. Lindsey Golick is hopeful that her state experience with Dunbar this year will not only carry over to her individually as a junior and senior, but also to the team, as she strives to fill the voids left by her sister and Dunbar atop the singles ladder.
“I think it definitely makes our program stand out,” Golick said. “Hopefully in the next few years, our team will keep getting stronger and stronger and will continue to have representation at state.
“Just to be able to play with state-level tennis players and see what their game is, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most. I want to see what I need to improve on and then make it back to state the next two years.”