From the yellow-clad “I (heart) Dome” T-shirt wearers to the casual passers-by, few strolled through the corridor of the Cal Poly tennis courts Friday without paying tribute.
“Let’s go, Andre!”
Some sat down to watch portions of the Mustangs men’s tennis team’s 7-0 afternoon sweep of UNLV. Others used the pathway to get to class or the gym.
If any were unaware that junior standout Andre Dome was holding court, they scurried by fast enough not to get exposed.
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“I like this dynamic, being the top dog on the court,” said Dome, who hasn’t had quite this same aura since he was trouncing through the PAC 7 for Arroyo Grande High.
Dome wasn’t referring to the fanfare but to the swagger in his game.
A fringe top-100 player nationally last season, Dome has shot into the NCAA top 25 with a breakout effort in the fall season. Friday, he finally teamed with senior Matt Fawcett in doubles after injuries conspired to keep the two top players apart, and No. 53 Cal Poly (5-3) is showing no ill effects from a tumultuous offseason that saw former head coach Justin McGrath resign amidst an NCAA investigation.
“Last year, I was the one looking for the guys to beat in the rankings,” said Dome, who earned the No. 22 spot in each of the first two NCAA coaches’ polls, “and now guys are coming in here, and they have nothing to lose. It’s a little different mindset, but at the same time, I try to win every single point.”
Dome beat Rene Ruegamer of the No. 63 Rebels (3-7) — 6-2, 6-1 — showcasing his booming serve and ability to scatter winners to the far portions of the court.
The team’s season has been a continuation of a breakout school year for Dome. He rode a string of upsets to qualify for the ITA All-American Championships in October, taking the No. 2-ranked player, Ohio State’s Blaz Rola, to a third set before making a run in the consolation bracket.
“That is a very big leap,” first-year Cal Poly head coach Nick Carless said of Dome’s ascent in the national rankings.
“Andre’s a top-30-in-the-country talent, if not higher. I think he just has to start believing that more and more and more, and it’ll just carry him as far as his abilities will let him. He doesn’t realize how good he is. He’s definitely a top talent across the country.”
Carless has the rest of the team believing as well.
Along with Dome, Sebastian Bell and Jurgen De Jager took straight-set singles victories over UNLV. De Jager beat Bernard Schoeman 6-3, 7-6 at No. 5, and Bell topped Charlie Alvarado 6-1, 6-1 at No. 6. Brian McPhee, Marco Comuzzo and Jordan Bridge -- at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in singles — earned three-set wins over their Rebels counterparts.
Instilling a scrappy attitude, Carless, a former Cal Poly player and Pepperdine assistant coach, has made it a priority to mold the Mustangs into the kind of hustling and vocal team that opponents don’t enjoy facing, similar to the perennially ranked Waves.
“It’s always tough to win 7-0,” Carless said. “I was really surprised by that. I thought we had a good chance to beat them, and I thought we were favored, but I wasn’t expecting 7-0, and I think it just kind of came from the doubles and just rolled from there.”
The doubles effort was spearheaded by Dome and Fawcett at the No. 2 spot. They cruised to an 8-2 victory over Alex Bull and Johannes Markel.
It was the first team-up for the two veterans and the first match for Fawcett since tearing the ACL in his left knee at the end of the 2010 season.
That year, Dome sat out with a hip injury, and when he returned for 2011, Fawcett was shelved by the knee tear and chronic patella tendonitis.
Both utilizing big serves and a good volley game, they’ll have the opportunity to become interchangeable with the team’s No. 1 duo, Bridge and McPhee, and could make some noise nationally by the end of the season should Fawcett’s health continue to improve.
Still learning how to move on his knee, Fawcett aims to be back playing singles sometime in March.
The offseason investigation into the integrity of McGrath’s scholarship documents and accuracy of financial reports and practice logs resulted in a fine for the university, but the players have moved on.
“It was a bit chaotic before,” Fawcett said, “but Nick’s done a great job so far.
“Our coaches are great role models, good players, so the guys are holding each other more accountable and just taking it a lot more seriously, doing the right things off the court, on the court and behind the scenes.”