April 16, 2008
by Jeff Smith
The day Oct. 7 is one on which several memorable records in the sports world were broken. In 1916, Georgia Tech and Cumberland University combined for 222 points in a football game played in Lebanon, Tenn. In 1965, Robert Mitera aced the 447-yard 10th hole at Miracle Hills in Omaha, Neb., to score the world's longest hole-in-one. That same day Charles Linster recorded 6,006 consecutive push-ups. In 1984, Chicago's Walter Payton passed Jim Brown as the NFL's all-time career rushing leader. Seven years later in 1991, Scorecard Harry, Space Appeal and Cafe Lex all tied for first in the ninth race at Belmont Park, creating just the second triple dead heat in New York thoroughbred racing history. And this past fall, on Oct. 7, Ohio State freshman Cami Hubbs did something she had not done in 125 previous singles matches. She lost.
Having completed her prep career at Omaha Westside High School in Omaha a perfect 117-0, Hubbs was one of the most touted talents in the country. A notable recruiting win for head coach Chuck Merzbacher and the Buckeye program, Hubbs continued her winning streak through the first eight singles matches of her college career last fall. But then came Oct. 7 - a rare finals matchup against her teammate Julie Blackmore at the Hokie Invitational. In what was just her second college tournament, Hubbs fell to Blackmore, 6-4, 6-4.
Life was over.
OK, enough of the drama. Truth is anyone expecting to go undefeated in college is just silly and Hubbs was the last to think such a thing. But hey, sports fans love storylines.
What is remarkable, however, is just how impressive Hubbs has been in her freshman season for the Buckeyes. Not only did she break the school's all-time freshman wins mark with her 28th singles victory in late March, she responded by shattering the program's single-season record for wins with her 32nd last weekend. Playing at the No. 5 position, Hubbs bested the Buckeyes' top mark, which was previously held by All-American Kristy Dascoli, who went 31-14 as a senior in 2001.
A senior. And we are talking about a freshman.
"She has been great from every standpoint," Merzbacher said. "She is focused in everything she does and approaches everything with a lot of enthusiasm. She is always making sure she is ready, and obviously it shows."
Here is a statistic for you. As of April 16, Hubbs' 33-6 record equates to an .846 winning percentage. That is the highest clip for a Buckeye since Ann Miller won .850 of her matches in 1977.
"I didn't even know that," Hubbs said. "I guess I can be proud of myself now."
Perhaps what has led Hubbs to a successful start to her collegiate career is the fact she has been around college tennis all of her life. Her father Ed Hubbs was the head tennis coach at Creighton University for 17 years.
"I have been playing tennis my whole life," she said.
Hubbs admits that while she looked at schools closer to home, such as Illinois and Nebraska, ultimately it was Ohio State that stuck in her mind throughout the recruiting process. Merzbacher lured his prized recruit to Columbus with the family atmosphere he instills in his program. In fact, Hubbs was part of a Buckeye recruiting class that was ranked eighth-best in the country.
"She had a great junior career and was one of the top-five doubles players in the country," said Merzbacher, who admitted OSU was in need of those crucial doubles points. "Cami is a two-point player. She can get you a point in singles and doubles."
Having gone 15-0 in doubles competition in high school, Hubbs has continued her success playing alongside a partner. She posted a 4-4 mark with Ally Mueller in the fall, but has spent most of her time pairing with Blackmore. The duo is currently 20-7 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
As is the case with any individual sport, competitors often put an emphasis on personal goals. With Hubbs, Merzbacher has been impressed with her team-oriented approach and notes she simply does everything a coach could want.
Now, she needs to continue working on her foot speed and she could also earn a few more free points off her serve, but she has three more years to continue refining those skills.
"There is potential for her to move up in the lineup for sure," Merzbacher said. "It's not easy to go out and land a No. 1 singles player, so this is what you really want. You want kids that move up and up."
Shortly after breaking the school's freshman wins record, Hubbs was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week - an honor she says ranks as one of the highlights of her career. This coming from the young woman who was also featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the Nov. 6, 2006, issue of Sports Illustrated, at the conclusion of her high school career.
"That was a really big accomplishment for me," she said. "I grew up in the Missouri Valley Conference and Big 12 scene. I never knew what the Big Ten meant until I got here and it's one of the greatest accomplishments of my career."
Hubbs talks about Columbus as if it really is a home away from home. She says the season so far has exceeded her expectations, both for her and the team, which is currently ranked 31st in the nation at 18-5 and 5-3 in conference play. She refers to her new home as a "bigger version of Omaha" and enjoys spending time downtown and at the zoo with her teammates.
While she has yet to decide on a major, Hubbs, who goes by her full name of Cameron in school, is leaning toward sociology and criminology. However, she admits the idea of becoming a physical therapist is also appealing to her, ever since she suffered an injury in high school and was appreciative of the assistance she was given in rehab.
Since arriving in Columbus, Hubbs has been appreciative of the opportunity to play tennis on an elite level. She remains focused on improving her game and helping the team to additional wins. As for individual victories, Merzbacher says that his star freshman solely concentrates on playing her game and does not bother thinking about winning matches.
She admits to doing it once in her career and it almost cost her. It was match No. 117.
"I didn't think about losing a match until the last match of my senior season," she said. "It turned out being the toughest one of my career. I didn't even know going undefeated was possible."
Well, it was, and it was a run that continued for eight more matches until that fateful day of Oct. 7.
Hubbs is not kidding herself. She is well aware that losing is part of the game.
Again, it's the drama effect.
But at the same time, Hubbs is quickly learning another valuable part of the game.
Records are made to be broken.