University of Redlands tennis coach Geoff Roche was right.
Any talk of his red-hot Bulldog doubles team ⎯ lefty-hitting Brysl Libao and Brad Cummins, a right-handed ball-striker from Palm Desert ⎯ winning an NCAA Division III doubles team was just that. Talk.
Roche, in full knowledge of what talent lay throughout America ⎯ sharp-playing doubles teams with an arsenal of shot-making capability ⎯ was not trying to claim a national championship for his No. 1 duo.
Roche said, “Margins (in tennis matches) are extremely small. They still had a lot of tennis matches to get the very end. They still had to play a lot of matches to get to the end.
“This sport,” said Redlands’ longtime tennis professor, “is unlike any other … where you can win 53 or 54 percent of your shots … but lose 46 or 47 percent of your shots ⎯ and win.”
Despite the shortened season, Libao-Cummins still got tagged as Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Americans. Ranked second nationally without having to play conference and regional tournaments, plus a full slate of hard-nosed players at NCAAs, has its advantages.
Libao and Cummins played their way to a No. 2 ranking off a Fall-based ITA Cup finals in Rome, Ga. last October. They lost to an Ohio-based Case Western Reserve University duo.
That finale, a nail-biting 6-7 (7), 7-6 (7), 4-6 outcome, lifted Matthew Chen and James Hopper, then ranked No. 3, to No. 1. Libao-Cummins were No. 2.
“Those third-set tiebreakers,” said Roche, “are the smallest of margins.” Cummins said “If we didn’t have that success in the fall, we wouldn’t have had enough time in the spring (due to the shortened schedule).”
Libao said “I was born and raised in the Philippines, so I never thought I’d be able to achieve such a distinction.”
Winning nationals was on the bucket list, though. Roche warned that it would have been a huge challenge.
Gotta admit, though, there were lots of high-flying hopes.
Disappointing, said Libao, because Cummins was a senior, “so unless he comes back we won’t be able to play together any more.”
No chance of a return, said Cummins, who has staked out a career piloting airplanes like his father and brother, a former U of R tennis player, Nick Cummins.
“Too expensive,” said Cummins, who graduated earlier this spring. “It doesn’t make sense to come back.”
His season ended, officially, on March 13. It’s when the worldwide pandemic halted everything everywhere. Libao-Cummins had a scheduled duel against Rensselaer (N.Y.) College’s 11th-ranked duo ⎯ canceled on that Friday-the-13th.
“I heard [Rensselaer] canceled their spring break,” said Cummins. “Then other eastern teams [on Redlands’ spring schedule] canceled their breaks. Then we got the news ⎯ the season was done.”
In SCIAC alone, Claremont-Mudd’s fully loaded squad, Caltech’s 12th-ranked doubles squad, plus a couple of doubles teams from Pomona-Pitzer that worked its way into the top 25.
Claremont-Mudd alone, said Cummins, “is never easy to play against.” The Stags had two doubles teams ranked, including a No. 3 coupling right behind Libao-Cummins.
Cummins, who has a bunch of prep accolades that include an Ojai doubles title back in 2015 plus a CIF doubles championship appearance a year later, tendered himself through a few doubles partners at Redlands before landing alongside Libao.
Roche said, “They’ve only been playing together for a year now.”
It made so much sense to pair them, said Roche. “The lefty-righty thing. One fires missiles. The other plays tough at the net. Brad on the outside, Brysl playing inside.”
Non-tennis buffs have to admit, there’s just as much strategy in doubles partnering as there is getting pitchers and catchers on the same page, or that setter-hitter relationship on a volleyball court, or a football QB-WR combo.
“To sustain what they were doing,” said Roche, “is so tough. They were a tough out against anyone, though.”
Over that year, Roche watched, with interest, while Libao-Cummins kept pressuring rival doubles duos. It was consistent that the Bulldog pair took opponents “out of their comfort zone, [disrupting] the other team.”
Out of comfort zone? Disruptions?
Libao said “...this COVID-19 is much bigger than sports. It’s affecting the whole world, so there’s always going to be something more important than sports, such as everyone’s health.”
All-American honors, the second for the Libao-Cummins duo, was a consolation prize.