This was the year for Jacob Dunbar.
After back-to-back years of earning All-Atlantic 10 First Team honors and playing second in the lineup behind his standout brother Ethan, Jacob was set to step into the leading role and continue his dominance on the court.
Fate had other plans.
Dunbar stepped onto the courts in Greenville, N.C. for the Spiders’ first fall tournament of the year at East Carolina.
“As I was warming up for the first match, I could feel some pain in my left arm, but I just shook it off and tried to play through it. I had the trainers check it out after the first match and after brief treatment, I went back out for the second match, but the pain kept getting worse and it went all the way up into my arm pit,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar retired from that match and sat out the rest of the tournament to get checked out by the trainers both in Greenville and back in Richmond when the team arrived back on campus.
The diagnosis? Blood clots.
“Jacob is never a kid that is going to complain, he’s always going to fight through any pain, so when this came up, I knew something had to be off because it just wasn’t like him,” Head Coach Ben Johnson said.
“As a team, we knew we needed to rally around him and get him back to being healthy and back on the courts where we all know he loves to be.” “Honestly, it was pretty scary because it just came out of nowhere. Training and everything was fine, and I was ready for a big year and this happened. I really didn’t’ know how to react,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar was put on blood thinners for several weeks before full tests were run. After the tests were run, he was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), which involes compression at the thoractic inlet, resulting in blood clots in the chest or upper extremities.
The solution? Removal of Dunbar’s first rib.
The surgery came on the first day of winter break in December and his initial recovery time was several months, with an expectation of Dunbar playing towards the latter half of the spring season.
Dunbar had other plans.
“I don’t like to sit anything out. I knew I was going to push myself and I wanted to be back for the start of the spring season. I wanted to be out there competing with my teammates,” he said.
And that’s exactly what he did. He was out there, playing at the top spot in the Spiders’ lineup when Richmond took the court for the first time in February.
“It was definitely an adjustment because I didn’t have the feel that I was used to having,” Dunbar said. “The first month or so, I really never felt comfortable, but I knew I had to keep pushing myself.”
Dunbar, who compiled a 55-9 ledger during his first two seasons as a Spider, stumbled a bit out of the gate to a 4-4 mark this spring.
“I could tell that he wasn’t that far off. It was just a matter of him gaining confidence and getting to his regular routine on the court,” Johnson said.
After back-to-back wins toward the end of February, Dunbar started to get his confidence and stroke back.
“I think the real turning point was our spring break trip to Florida. That was the first time I felt full strength since my surgery. We had a great trip as a team, and I think that has really set the tone for our recent success,” he said.
Entering this weekend’s Atlantic 10 Tournament in Charlottesville, Va., Dunbar has won 10 consecutive singles matches and hasn’t lost a doubles match in over a month (6-0).
“Tennis is a pretty individual sport, but I really do see my role as someone who can set the tone for the rest of the team and try to help give the rest of our guys confidence in their matches,” Dunbar said.
After this season, there’s no doubt how much Dunbar would give up for his team. Even if it’s a rib.