DUBLIN — Hard work pays off — just ask Caleb Bollenbacher.
The recent Dublin graduate, who lettered in tennis for two seasons with the Lions and advanced to regionals in doubles this season, was one of 35 national winners of a $5,000 scholarship from the United States Tennis Celebration Tennis & Education Foundation.
Bollenbacher first picked up tennis as a sophomore, “mainly because a bunch of my friends were playing.” Over time and after considerable effort, his coach Pattielu Clark said, he became an object lesson in how hard work lays the ground work for success.
“He is most definitely going to be missed,” Clark said.
After a stint on the junior varsity that first season, Bollenbacher “set his heart to” making the varsity, Clark said, noting the hours he and his friends spent practicing on courts in Dublin and Stephenville.
Tennis is a game that rewards persistence, and Bollenbacher had that in spades.
“He just worked his tail off that first year,” Clark said. “He basically is a self-taught player.”
Clark, who also coaches volleyball at Dublin, said Bollenbacher did everything he could to improve his game.
“Caleb had a lot of determination,” Clark said. “He fell in love with the game.”
Bollenbacher is modest about his beginnings on the court — “I started playing, I think, as a way to get out of the house” — but noted the sport gave him an competitive outlet in a manner that his many other activities didn’t.
In both his junior and senior years, Bollenbacher was half of District 11-2A third-place doubles team — the first time with Kirby Voigt, the second with Josh Boucher.
The partner switch “took a little adjustment,” Bollenbacher said, considering that he shifted to playing at the net when paired with Boucher. The duo made the trip to regionals this season after the team ahead of them couldn’t make it.
“(Caleb) and Josh are real good,” Clark said.
Bollenbacher said he liked doubles because it is still team-oriented. Plus, while Dublin has produced a string of solid players recently, there is little outside pressure — allowing Bollenbacher and his friends, who Clark said comprised the majority of her team, to flourish quietly.
But as both player and coach note, it didn’t come easily.
“I wasn’t great at the beginning,” Bollenbacher said. His family lived in China from the time he was six to the start of his eighth grade year, and in that span he mainly played soccer and street hockey.
Once in Dublin — itself a long way from his family’s Michigan roots — Bollenbacher played some basketball in junior high, Clark said, but “was quite green” on the tennis court.
There’s plenty of evidence that Bollenbacher is a quick study as well as a hard worker, though.
An honor student, Bollenbacher plans to attend Baylor University in the fall. He won the district UIL competition in headline writing, and earned all-district and all-region honors in band. Like tennis, he picked up the clarinet upon his arrival in Texas.
Bollenbacher is “an outstanding student” and is “very diligent” regarding his studies, Clark said.
“He’s a pleasure to have in the classroom,” she said, and is an “excellent leader” to boot.
Academics will be Bollenbacher’s first priority at Baylor — he plans to major in English, and sees a career in journalism as “a possibility — but he said he may continue to pursue his chosen sport, in intramurals.
“I just enjoy the game,” he said. “I just have fun with it.”