Andre Dome felt like he was beginning to live up to his lofty expectations.
Now he’ll have to wait another year.
A local tennis prodigy, perhaps the best to ever come through Arroyo Grande, Dome signed with Cal Poly over USC out of high school and aimed to put the “hometown” Mustangs on the map.
He started playing the sport seriously at 5 years old, had his first full feature in The Tribune at 10 and was the closest thing to invincible for the four seasons he played at Arroyo Grande High.
Fighting through nagging injuries his freshman season at Cal Poly, Dome was able to ascend all the way to the top of the Mustangs’ singles ladder last spring, hoping for a major breakthrough in 2010.
He showed his potential when he won both singles and doubles titles in the UNLV Invitational in October, but that was when a chronic hip injury became too loud to ignore.
“I played four singles matches and four doubles matches in about three days, and some of the matches, I just couldn’t walk between points,” Dome said. “It was just so painful. I felt like I gotta do something. I have to see a doctor.”
After seeing a specialist in San Francisco, Dome found out he suffered a hereditary condition that caused his hip joint to unnaturally grind against cartilage.
Overcompensating for the pain probably led to the dislocated ankle that prematurely ended his freshman season with the Mustangs in 2009, and at its worst, it rendered him unable to walk between classes.
Dome had arthroscopic surgery to correct the condition in February and said he was granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA for this spring — what Cal Poly head coach Justin McGrath thought could have been a standout sophomore season for Dome.
“He was starting to come into his own and really start playing well,” McGrath said. “Obviously by winning the UNLV tournament, it was probably the first tournament where he really started to do something in college tennis.”
Dome, who started running for the first time this week and will be able to resume hitting tennis balls by the end of the month, said he should be ready to fully return to action in August.
Though the surgery has kept him off the court for a period longer than any other since he began playing the sport as a kindergartner, both player and coach are confident Dome can quickly return to form.
With the injury out of the way, Dome will theoretically be able to train uninterrupted by injury for the first time in his college career.
“Andre’s going to have a great career at Cal Poly,” said McGrath, who made several trips with Dome to see his out-of-town doctor. “I truly feel like this is going to make him more mature as an athlete, and I think there’s going to be a lot of positives about it.”
But knowing he’ll still have three more seasons to contribute hasn’t lessened the pain of watching his teammates limp through a tough year without him.
The Mustangs lost their first seven duals of the spring season and go into today’s Boise State Tournament 2-9. They’re 1-1 in conference play and still have a shot to make waves in the Big West Conference Tournament, but they’ll have to turn things around quickly.
“That’s one of the things I’m really disappointed in,” Dome said. “Even if I played, I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but not even being out there and playing is like not even helping. That’s hardest thing for me. I can’t even go to practice and hit a ball to the guys to help them. “You’re just basically useless out there.”
McGrath said he’s not disheartened by Dome’s lost season and the impact it might have had on the team success. Without his number one player, he’s looking for major improvement from the rest of the guys, who are all playing a level up from where they would have been.
He said Dome has nothing to be disappointed about.
“That’s the type of kid Andre is,” McGrath said. “He feels bad because we’ve lost a lot of close ones. He kind of visualizes and sees himself as, ‘Man, if I was playing in the lineup, we’ve got a great opportunity.’
“With that said, I view it as an opportunity for my guys that are out there now to get better. I’m not using the Andre Dome excuse to lose matches because we don’t have Andre in the lineup.”