Eric Rubens always wanted to stay close to the coast and close to home when attending college, and he wanted to find a place with top-notch academics and a competitive tennis program to boot. He found all of those things in one place, and managed to put together a fine college career.
Rubens, a 2004 graduate of La Jolla High School, wrapped up his college tennis career earlier this month at UCSD, where, among his many highlights, he won an NCAA Division II national title in doubles and helped his team to the national semifinals.
“It didn’t really hit me (that my college career was over) until after we lost at nationals (on May 14) and we landed back in San Diego,” Rubens said.
The loss in the national tournament wrapped up a college career that started when Rubens decided to go to school just up the coast from his childhood home.
“I realized that if I went to school close by, I could come home if I wanted my mom’s barbecue or wanted to catch up with the family,” Rubens said. “I really didn’t know what to expect from the tennis. Even though it’s a Division II school, we played some really tough teams.
“It was nice to have my family be able to come to the majority of my college matches.”
Before landing at UCSD’s La Jolla campus, Rubens was a standout player in high school and on the local and national junior tennis scene. He compiled a 203-17 record at La Jolla High School and led the Vikings to four straight CIF San Diego Section titles while going undefeated in league play during his entire four-year run.
His high school success didn’t immediately translate to stellar results, as during his freshman year he posted solid but unspectacular scores while splitting time between the Nos. 3 and 4 spots on the Tritons’ singles ladder and playing No. 2 doubles.
Rubens improved during his sophomore campaign, going 13-9 in singles, mostly from the No. 2 position, and 15-8 in doubles, playing six matches at the No. 1 position.
He really began to come into his own as a junior, though, when he and doubles partner Blake Meister went 19-4 at the No. 1 spot and Rubens earned All-America honors. Rubens served as a team captain and helped the Tritons to an 18-7 overall record and a spot in the Division II national semifinals.
“That was the best our team had ever done, and being able to play on a national stage for almost the entire week and performing that well was one of my favorite memories,” Rubens said.
Rubens topped even that last fall, when he and Meister won the Division II doubles championship. In a format that is unique to college tennis, the duo then went on to compete against the nation’s top Division III and junior college teams in the ITA Small College Super Bowl - when they beat all comers in that event, they earned an invitation to be the one lower-division team to compete in the NCAA Division I tournament.
Rubens and Meister lost to teams from the University of Denver and the University of Miami in the double-elimination tournament, but Rubens said he will remember the experience of competing against the country’s best collegiate players.
“That was definitely one of my favorite memories,” Rubens said.
Rubens earned the praise of his college coach, Eric Steidlmayer, who said the La Jolla graduate was integral in the Tritons’ success, especially in the last two years.
“Eric was a big part of that national semifinals team, and of course won the doubles national championship,” Steidlmayer said. “That was a huge accomplishment. He worked really hard at the doubles, and he’s naturally talented as well.”
Rubens experienced more success in doubles play than singles throughout his college career, and Steidlmayer said that was a result of Rubens’ unique set of skills.
“He has great quickness in his hands and a great feeling for volleying,” he said.
“He’s a great athlete and hits overheads very well. The skills that he has really suit doubles well. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good singles player - it just means he’s one of the best doubles guys we’ve had.”
Rubens is pursuing an electrical engineering degree, so even though his athletic eligibility is complete, he’ll remain on campus for one more year to complete his studies. He said he plans to continue to hit with regularly with the team, and may serve as an assistant coach to Steidlmayer.
“It’s still going to kind of seem like I’m on the team,” Rubens said. “The only time I’ll really realize I’m not is when there are matches and I have to sit out, but the practicing aspect of it will be nice.”