Seniority doesn't necessarily depend on age or experience for the 2012 University of Iowa men's tennis team. While its roster boasts four seniors, junior Garret Dunn's exceptional skill and maturity make him a leader for the Hawkeyes.
Senior teammate Will Vasos describes Dunn as a "father figure," citing his unique relationship with other players, and says the senior class has adopted him as one of their own.
While he may not be oldest, Dunn is the squad's tallest. Standing 6-foot-8, he's a vertical powerhouse. His stature, more typically seen on a basketball court, allows him to dominate competition with his overpowering serve and exceptional reach.
These tennis tactics have put him ahead of the rest in singles play, as he's posted a 6-5 record this spring. In the fall, Dunn went unbeaten at the Drake Invitational in three singles matches, and won again at the Wildcat Invitational.
Head coach Steve Houghton credits Dunn's serve, which came naturally for him. However, playing at Iowa helped him develop other elements of his game to finally harness the power his body provides.
"Since starting college, he's gone from being a ball-striker to a tennis player," says Houghton, Iowa's head coach for 31 years. "In baseball, the analogy would be where a pitcher is either just a thrower or an accurate pitcher. He already had the serve when he got here, but he's learned how to construct points and do some other things that put him apart from just going out there and hitting big shots."
While Dunn has a big shot, he doesn't consider himself one. Despite his individual success, he's stayed humble and hasn't developed a "singles" mindset.
"Tennis is unique because when you're playing, it's very individual, but everything you do is ultimately going to affect your team," he says. "Even if we don't have the success on the court that we want, it's the fact that everyone's working hard and supporting each other. That's what keeps me coming back every day."
Keeping with his team-mindedness, Dunn finds comfort in doubles play, where he has also assumed a top position for Iowa. Paired with Michael Swank, a sophomore who stands at 6 feet, 6 inches, the towering duo have defeated ranked foes and secured a team win in almost every match this spring. They concluded their fall season on a high note with two doubles victories at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Compared to their competition, Dunn and Swank make a daunting duo. However, Dunn's intimidating features end at his large stature and well-defined frame.
His friendly face and upbeat disposition make him the "gentle giant" to those who know him. It's not just his statistics that make him a leader for the Hawkeyes, but also his steadfast supportiveness. Teammates call Dunn a "rock" they can always depend on to lift their spirits and boost morale.
"There isn't a mean bone in Garret's massive body," says teammate Tom Mroziewicz. "Even with his crazy school and tennis schedule, he always has time for his friends. He's under a lot of pressure, but he never shows it. I've never met anyone always so genuinely positive, and it's great to have that around you every day."
Houghton says this amicability has made Dunn a "winner in every sense of the word." And with four graduating seniors and only one other junior on the squad, the coach said Dunn's leadership will play a more critical role next year.
"He's not just a winner in stats and numbers, but also in terms of attitude and how he conducts himself," Houghton says. "Whether he's winning or losing, he's unshakeable, and it wears on the other guys. He's already been a leader for us, so next year I know I can count on him."
Houghton added it was Dunn's brain, not brawn, that first attracted him to the Arizona native—who, during recruiting, was ranked the second-best player in his home state. Aside from that honor, Dunn was named valedictorian of Corona Del Sol High School's 2009 graduating class. Houghton, whose team typically boasts one of the top cumulative grade-point averages at Iowa, was determined to make this "ultimate student athlete" a Hawkeye.
While he was heavily recruited by a number of prestigious universities, Dunn said he was biased toward Iowa because it was his mom's alma mater, and it boasted the "Midwestern hospitality" he had heard of, but never experienced, until his first recruiting visit to Iowa City.
After moving to the Hawkeye state, Dunn continued to maintain a 4.0 grade-point average, earning him academic honors at Iowa, the Big Ten, and the NCAA.
Dunn said the only thing he spends more time on than tennis is his schoolwork, which is a demanding balance. As a finance and accounting double major, he was admitted into the competitive Hawkinson Institute of Business Finance within the Tippie College of Business.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't busy," Dunn says. "I've had a lot of late nights and early mornings, but I feel like I'd be taking my college career for granted if I wasn't challenging myself both on the court and in the classroom."
His impressive resume helped him land a sought-after finance internship with the acclaimed Barclay's Wealth in Chicago, where he will work this summer before returning to Iowa as a senior.
While he hopes to continue to lead the Hawkeyes next year, Dunn said he plans on ending his athletic career upon the completion of his Iowa career. Forced to choose between his two passions—finance and tennis—he is choosing to focus on finance because the sport will no longer offer him the camaraderie Iowa tennis does.
"What really motivates me in tennis is the team aspect of it, so a lot of that motivation will fade after college," Dunn says. "That being said, I've no doubt enjoyed my time playing at Iowa, and I'll always have the friends and memories I made here. People are Hawkeye fans for life, and you don't find that loyalty everywhere."
By Michele Danno, UI Athletics, Marketing