With a wicked forehand and a competitive streak the length of a court, Brandon Lupo was bound to make a racket in college tennis.
Lupo’s scrappy and potent game of tennis made him one of the most successful players to come through the University of Northern Colorado. But rising through the ranks with the Bears, the senior also did a little bit more than just notch wins for his program.
In many respects, Lupo was a keystone in UNC tennis establishing itself as more than a doormat in the Big Sky Conference. No easy deal in a neck of the woods where jeu de paume can be as foreign as French.
“It’s been a fun ride here,” said the 2005 Class 4A No. 1 singles state champ from Broomfield. “The team took me places I never thought I would have gone. I hope I have done the same for it.”
Lupo’s career with the Bears ended April 14, in a match his coach pegged as atypical. Nearly every time UNC leader Tim Bearman has watched his No. 1 singles player drop an opening set it has lead to a soaring comeback. But one never manifested itself for Lupo against Weber State’s Jakub Gewert.
The split-set loss stung the player and his coach, holding the senior out from the Big Sky tournament. But even with a low note marking the end of his player’s career, Bearman could not deny Lupo’s overall impact on the team.
“He really helped us reach the next level in conference,” the coach said. “When he came on board (three years ago) nobody took us serious, nor had they any reason to. Now, with Brandon’s help, we have a winning record and no one takes us lightly.”
Over the course of Lupo’s time in Greeley the Bears have had an astounding rise. The team has doubled its wins each year the No. 1 singles player has been on the roster. UNC won a dismal three games Lupo’s first season, but increased that mark to a program-best in NCAA Division I competition this year — 12 wins.
“We’re a small team with few scholarships,” Bearman said. “We get a lot of kids who other programs said couldn’t play at the Division I level. We pride ourselves that we’ve reached this point and can compete.”
Lupo was one of those players whom top-flight tennis programs overlook. But when he reflects on his college career, the long and twisting road to becoming one of the Bear’s most successful players was worth the trip.
Not only did Lupo have to fight a bout of burnout, quitting tennis after his freshman year at Metro State College, but he also had to reinvent his game to become a successful Division I player.
Adding a more patient and mature approach to scoring points was perhaps the toughest part of Lupo’s transition. Anybody who has watched him play quickly picks up his grip-and-rip style of play.
“He thought he could hit a winner off every shot,” Bearman said. “He did not want to volley when he first got here, he even told me he wasn’t going to.”
Lupo laughs at those hard-headed days with his willingness to succumb to Bearman’s insistence at high-percentage tennis and cross-court shots leading huge seasons the past two years. The No. 1 singles player won 15 matches in both his junior and senior years.
“A lot of my success came from a dedication I never had for the game before,” Lupo said. “It was practice and diet, things I never thought of that made the difference. I approached the game like a craft and tried to hone that craft.”
Lupo also stepped out of his comfort zone with tennis, moving his game over to doubles play. But teaming up with Ben Gendron at No. 1 doubles opened Lupo’s eyes to new aspects of the game.
“I learned a lot from Ben, since he’s such a strong net player,” Lupo said. “I discovered what you could do by making the game faster from doubles, how players can freak out. And I tried to take that over to my singles game.”
Lupo has two years left on his biochemistry degree and plans to use some of his free times to test the waters of a pro career. He aims to enter a tournament here and there to see where he stands. But if his most competitive days are the ones he spent at UNC, it will be no skin off Lupo’s nose.
“I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “I could have won a few more tournaments here and there. But overall there is no disappointment with what I’ve done in college.”
Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.