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INSTANT IMPACT: Newcomers Shankle, Dornbusch Wasting No Time

May 14, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

ATHENS, Ga. - This time a year ago, Blair Shankle was winning the TAPPS 4A state singles championship for Parish Episcopal School in Dallas and Michel Dornbusch was back home in Germany, going to school at Deutsche Sporthochschule.

But as the only newcomers in either lineup, they could hold the key to how far the Baylor men's and women's tennis teams advance at the NCAA Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

"Blair has been tremendous," women's head coach Joey Scrivano said of Shankle, who leads the team with 33 singles victories and a dual-match record of 23-2. "She could play with anybody right now, but you have to evolve. We'll know this summer if she can continue to evolve her game and stay healthy. That's a big part of it is you've got to be durable. It's hard to improve when you're not on the court training. But I would say the future is very bright for her."

Coming in as a freshman, Shankle said her goal was to earn a spot in a Baylor lineup that returned three seniors in Jordaan Sanford, Alex Clay and Alex Leatu and an All-American in junior Ema Burgic.

"At the same time, I knew we had a lot of great players and everybody is fighting for a spot, especially at (Nos.) 4, 5 and 6," she said.

Undefeated at No. 5, Shankle eventually moved up to the No. 4 spot in singles, compiling a 13-2 record that included the clinching point in a 4-3 victory over Texas that wrapped up an outright Big 12 championship. She defeated the Longhorns' Neda Koprcina, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), in the last match on court.

"Obviously, I showed some nerves," Shankle said. "But when it came down to me, and everyone was on my court, I felt like I had all the support in the world. . . . I liked having the pressure on me. I liked that it came down to me and I'm either going to win it or lose it for the team."

Shankle said she ultimately picked Baylor because of Scrivano and associate head coach Alison Ojeda. "I love Waco and I love Baylor, but the reason I came here was because of Joey and Alison," she said.

The Baylor coaches "changed some things around," helping Shankle develop a much stronger forehand and "using all of my tools so that I don't try to go for shots too early in the point," she said.

As far as what she needs to move to the next level, Shankle said she nees to improvement her court movement, ball control, ball movement and just consistency.

"All those things, I've gotten better at, but there's still a lot of room to grow, for sure," she said. "I'd love to get my forehand really consistent, hitting my spots and getting a lot of spin and just being able to move the ball pretty much whenever I want to. I want to become even more consistent and make players really have to hit a winner to beat me rather than giving them errors or short balls."

"She's not giving away a lot of freebies," Scrivano said of Shankle. "She just compets for every single point. And in tennis, that can go a very long way."

While Shankle will have three years left and could move up to No. 3 or higher next season, Dornbusch has had to be a quick learner in what will be a four-month stay at Baylor.

Following the same path of his former German national student teammate and current Baylor teammate Patrick Pradella, Dornbusch enrolled in January and expected to get in at least a couple seasons and possibly finish his degree at Baylor. But the NCAA delayed his eligibility until the last minute and then declared that he only had one season left after transferring from the Deutsche Sporthochschule.

"We actually thought he was going to be here for longer," said men's head coach Matt Knoll. "I could talk all day how that process went. We're disappointed, and certainly he is, but we're going to make the best of it."

Dornbusch certainly has. Despite getting a late start, and then having to overcome a foot injury, he's compiled a 13-6 record overall and was a perfect 5-0 in the Big 12.

"Frankly, his biggest impact initially was in doubles," Knoll said of Dornbusch, who is 11-2 with Julian Lenz and a combined 16-2 in doubles. "He came in and really helped us right off the bat in doubles. In singles, he was kind of finding his footing. He was a little hurt at the beginning and struggled some. But now, he is finding that other gear."

In Germany, Dornbusch was only playing tennis "maybe two or three times a week," he said. So, when he got the word from Pradella that he could practice every day in "beautiful facilities," he decided immediately "that if I'm coming to America, I'm coming (to Baylor)."

So much so that he came from Wilhelmshaven, Germany, sight unseen. He had never stepped foot on campus until he arrived in January.

Although he grew up playing in individual tournaments and only played "maybe five club matches a year," Dornbusch said he loves the team aspect of collegiate tennis.

"Of course, you have pressure. But, I think it's a good pressure," he said. "I saw so many guys in Germany that if they're playing bad, they're tanking and go home. Here, if you play bad, you have to become more intense to win, somehow. And even if you lose, you can still win the match and you can help the other guys get through their matches."

After his one semester at Baylor, Dornbusch said he will have 1 or 1 ½ years left on a bachelor's degree back home and isn't sure about playing pro tennis.

"Then I'm 24, 25, so we'll see," he said. "If I play good tennis, maybe so, but nobody really knows. . . . It's really difficult for me because my eligibility is only for one year. I think If I had the opportunity to stay and play next year, I would do it."

Dornbusch and the fifth-seeded Baylor men (25-5) will get another day off before facing 12th-seeded Illinois at 11 a.m. CDT Friday in the Round of 16.

"You get here, and everybody's good, and you can't waste too much energy worrying about that," Knoll said of a side of the bracket that includes top-ranked USC and No. 4 Virginia. "It's amazing, you get to this point of the year and it seems like everybody has a conference champion T-shirt on. Everybody's had a lot of success, everybody's got a lot of confidence. We've just got to go out and let it rip."

Shankle and the 14th-seeded Baylor women (26-6) have a difficult test on Thursday, when the Lady Bears face third-seeded Virginia (23-5) at 11 a.m. This is a Virginia team Baylor defeated, 4-3, last year in Waco, but "they're better," Scrivano said.

"They've added a couple players, and they're definitely stronger than they were last year. But we are, too. It's going to be a great match. On paper, we have no business playing with them. If you look at the recruiting classes versus ours, they're just killing us in that area. But matches are played on the court. We've proven this year that we're one of the best teams out there and we've been competitive with everybody. It's been a long time since anyone's been able to just blow us off the court. So, I feel great about our chances."

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