The University of Portland mourns the loss of tennis student-athlete Reid deLaubenfels, who unexpectedly passed away on Friday. A native of Seattle, Wash., deLaubenfels led the Pilots to national rankings in each of the last two seasons after playing his first two seasons at Fresno State. He earned All-West Coast Conference recognition for the Pilots in both 2014 and 2015 and served as team captain his senior year. He had finished his athletic eligibility and was scheduled to finish his degree at UP in the fall of 2015. A memorial service will be schedule on the UP campus after students return in late August.
University of Portland men's tennis coach Aaron Gross fondly remembered deLaubenfels this weekend after receiving the news:
"Takes the backhand down the line too much… gets slappy on his forehand… doesn't get down for low volleys all the time… can serve big, but inconsistently at times… is prone to get tired as the match wears on," would be a normal scouting report on Reid deLaubenfels from a team that we might be playing. As the opposing coach would be trying to tell his player all of the physical reasons that he should be able to beat him, Reid was in our locker room KNOWING the reason he was going to win: because he was smarter, more brave, and absolutely would come through when the lights of that match shined the brightest. And Reid won… a lot.
Reid transferred to our team for his junior year after spending his first two years of college at Fresno State University. He was joining our program in a very unique phase. We had four seniors who had been together since the beginning at UP and were poised to have their best season ever. They were extremely close teammates and very motivated to go out with a bang. Reid had plenty of experience winning tennis matches. He had played No. 1 at Fresno State and had beaten some very good players. I was sure he would help our team. The thing I wasn't sure about was how he would fit in with the more introverted group of guys that we had. Anyone that knows Reid recognizes that he is anything but an introvert. My concern was that Reid was an established player and had every right to feel like he should come in and be the top dog. In early conversations with Reid I talked to him about what a special opportunity it was for him to be part of this group and that even though the older guys didn't know it yet, how important a part of the team he would be. I knew if Reid would join the team and try to integrate himself in with the group that we had, that he would add something special – a spirit that told every one of those guys that he would do anything for them to reach their goals, including being the best teammate possible. We had an amazing group of guys that season and finished nationally ranked for the first time in the history of the program. Reid was the missing piece we needed to reach that goal. Maybe there would have been better physical players that could have joined us in that spot, but the intangibles that Reid brought are evident in very few human beings, let alone tennis players.
As a father of three kids, I was really intrigued by Reid. In my mind, I had never seen anyone with such a healthy relationship with competition. Reid would give everything of himself every single time he played. He was completely invested in the outcome of the match to the point where he would be playing through sickness, exhaustion, a sore arm, or just having a bad day and would use these adversities to test his competitive toughness. I'm sure he got under the skin of his opponents. Reid carried himself as if he was Roger Federer on the court. I heard the term 'irrational confidence' one time and told Reid that phrase sometimes described him. I think he really liked that. Reid didn't like to practice. He would have been the first to admit it. On one of our first trips, we were warming up the day before the tournament and I wandered off for a bit to find a restroom. When I came back I saw only seven players hitting, with Reid sitting in one of the big umpire chairs. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I asked him if something was wrong. He told me that he doesn't like to practice that much the day before a tournament. I felt the blood boiling in me as I told him to get back out there and finish the practice. After watching him go through the motions for a few more minutes, I finally exploded and told him to get off the court. I told him that he can prepare my way and I will be okay with however the results shake down or he can prepare his way, in which case he better win, because if he doesn't I will pull him from the lineup. I'm sure I have used that threat with other players in the past and have seen immediate compliance. Reid almost took that as more of a challenge and just walked to the side of the court where he hung out until the practice was over. A year later, Reid and I would laugh about the incident, because we both came to understand each other better over the course of our time together. I think Reid gained a bit more understanding of professionalism and discipline and I learned to be less rigid in thinking that what works for most people doesn't necessarily work for everyone. I was able to find a place to allow Reid to have some control over his tennis preparation. I was mainly able to do that because Reid is the ultimate competitor and I knew that he would be more ready than almost anyone else when match time came around.
Back to my initial point about Reid's healthy relationship with competing, which I still struggle with to this very day. I wanted to know how Reid competed so fiercely and yet didn't seem to have his self-esteem wrapped up in whether he won or lost. I would ask Reid, 'what did your parents (Bob and Blair) do that allowed this perfect connection of being heavily invested in winning and yet not let the result define you?' He would answer that his mom and dad would support him in everything that he did and always just encouraged him to do the best that he could. They didn't dictate his tennis career or treat him differently when he won or lost. He was unconditionally loved by his mom and dad every single day of his life.
Before Reid's senior year started, again we sat down and talked about what his role would be. Reid wanted deeply to be team captain. I was a bit nervous about this because the previous year with four seniors, we did not lean on any type of leadership except for those four guys. For Reid's senior year, our team was comprised of 10 players, with seven of them being first year players. If we ever needed a strong captain, this was the year. The program has never had that many new players join at once and from the first day those new players started arriving on campus last August, Reid was with them. He helped them settle into their dorms, get their books, find their way around campus, made sure they had people to hang out with on the weekends. Because we had so many new players, we added a couple of smaller events to our fall schedule so the new guys could get some more match experience. I was particularly concerned with the doubles play of the new guys. It is usually a very steep learning curve with the young players when it comes to doubles. During those tournaments I put nearly every one of our players with Reid at some point. He was a coach on the court in a lot of ways and he is the type of person that every single player wants to play doubles with. I would comment a lot about the fact that Reid makes every partner he plays with feel like he is the best player on the court and that is exactly what those young guys needed to get over their self consciousness in the early part of their doubles career. A player could double fault three times in a row or miss every return for 10 minutes and Reid would be back with that player after every point reminding him of his belief in him. I came to believe that special quality that Reid had was going to make him an incredible success in life. He had a way of elevating everyone around him, and that's what great leaders do. In a lot of traditional leadership senses, Reid may not have been perfect. But he was one of those few guys that when we got our butt kicked at San Diego on a Friday morning, caught a flight that put us in Salt Lake City at 10 p.m. that same night, took a van to Provo where we checked in at midnight to try and get some sleep to play in one of the toughest conditions in the country the next day at 11 a.m., said 'we can do this today, guys' and he truly believed it. We didn't do it that day, but Reid played a great match. He proved once again that no matter the odds stacked against him or the team, he always had that irrational confidence that he could get it done. I started asking myself if he had irrational confidence or the rest of the world had irrational doubt?
The senior year in college is a tricky year to navigate for an athlete. Players really want to finish up strong, but also have one eye on the future. The attention to the little details of the sport can get lost when worrying about future jobs or grad school tests. Reid faced a bit of that. I felt like Reid had this huge amazing deck of cards in his hand and he just had to pick the most amazing group of cards, because there was not going to be a bad hand dealt him. He was going to be successful at whatever he did, but I know his future worries still grabbed some of his attention. In two of our biggest wins of the year – Pepperdine and BYU –Reid won huge matches. He and partner Steffen Dierauf were one of the best teams in the WCC and rarely lost. Reid did an excellent job supporting the 'freshies' as he liked to call them. The freshmen loved Reid and his sense of humor and probably were as worried about how that was going to be replaced when he graduated as I was about losing his infectious competitive toughness and ability to win at the top of the lineup in singles and doubles. I think we all felt comfort in knowing that even though Reid had exhausted his eligibility that he would be around us nearly every day as he finished up his degree this coming fall. Even after finishing his playing career, I kept him on the team's private Facebook group, so that we could all get the benefit of his funny comments on old pictures posted of Jamie Fisher or Mike Pervolarakis. I have had the benefit of seeing so many great people move through our program that I have developed a confidence in knowing that this trend will continue, because our Pilot tennis family from previous years will demand it to continue. Reid was now part of the Pilot tennis family. University of Washington is hosting a few of our matches in the spring of 2016. Reid was anticipating living back in Seattle by then and talked about the fact that even though he enjoyed his time in Fresno that he would be whole heartedly wearing his purple on the day we play Fresno State in Seattle.
In the two years that Reid was at Portland, he had 13 teammates, which is a lot for a college tennis team. I feel like it is more than a coincidence that the stars aligned just right for Reid to end up at UP for a number of reasons as outlined above. But also for the fact that if you ever wanted a large number of people to be touched by one special person, it would be Reid. It happened to be at a very unique time in the program, where we had a big transition of groups. From connecting with guys from both of those teams over the last couple of days about the shocking news of Reid's passing, there is equal amounts of grief and sorrow. I know there is also a whole other community at UP away from athletics that will be missing Reid just as much. I think to a person, every one of his teammates and coaches are better for knowing Reid. I know I am a better coach and a better parent because of Reid. His parents, Bob and Blair, created a fearless young adult, who took on the world at every turn and won or lost with a smile on his face no matter what. He will be so greatly missed, but also carried with us all in so many ways. I will continue to strive as a parent, coach, and educator to instill his spirit in the young people I am charged with helping to develop into strong, independent, and confident members of society. I will remind myself on a daily basis to strive to have the 'irrational confidence' that Reid possessed. He showed me on so many occasions that special things can happen with that approach, even if checkered by some disappointment, but nothing special is going to be achieved by focusing on what isn't possible. There won't be a day that goes by that I won't be reminding a student or myself of this special quality that an extraordinary young man taught me.