MICHIGAN CITY —
It's easy to find the Bardol family at a Marquette boys tennis match.
You can locate Chris, Kristy, and often times, his parents Art and Sistie, and Kristy's folks Bill and Carol Root, stationed outside of court two, where they can watch the three boys, Sean, Cormack and Riggs, who comprise the Blazers' singles lineup.
"It's wonderful and nerve-wracking at the same time," said Chris, a Marquette tennis alum who went on to play at Aquinas College. "We just sit the middle so we can see all of them."
Whether basketball or tennis, Earl Cunningham has been in coaching for 50 years and has never had a trio of siblings on a team before, let alone one that comprised his starting lineup.
"In basketball, I had twins with a younger brother on JV," he said. "The positive is I know, 99 percent of the time, the parents are here and the grandparents here, so we're always going to have six fans. They never miss any home matches."
The boys were tennis and baseball teammates last year.
"We make up a like quarter of the baseball team and half the tennis team," Cormack, a senior, said. "We're all very athletic and were able to pick it up."
Cormack and Sean were paired in doubles during the 2017 season, actually notching Marquette's only point in its sectional loss. Sean won the top spot last year with Cormack settling in at two, as they are now, while Riggs spent his freshman year in doubles. After a couple matches there this season, he moved up to three singles and has remained there.
"Last year, we had a lot of match play," Cormack said. "This year, coach Cunningham had a pretty good idea (Sean) was a lot more consistent and better skill-wise, so he was the best guy to play No. 1. We were pretty even up until the start of last year. One summer, he played a lot more than I did and he took it over. There's no one else I'd rather have out there at one singles. I don't think anybody puts in as much time and effort as he does. It's not like we're on the same doubles team, but it's really nice to always have that family support there."
Baseball players before anything else, the boys were all quick studies on the court, taking up tennis as freshmen.
"It was a natural off-season sport to keep active," Chris said. "Everybody picked up a racket their freshman year and started. The neat thing is they can all pick up a racket in the offseason and have some opponents to play against."
Sean's initial reviews didn't suggest he'd have a future in the sport.
"I played, I think, one summer, like when (Cormack) started, and I said, OK, I'm not playing tennis," he said. "I didn't really like it. The next summer, I picked it up, I didn't know what else to play, so I figured I'd do it. I played like five times a week. I hit with anybody. Our older sister Mackenzie (a Marquette grad and a sophomore at St. Mary's College), I played with her a lot."
Riggs then followed his brothers to the courts last year.
"I played soccer in middle school, but I just really pushed people," he said. "I'm enjoying it. I've always been playing people who are better than me so I can learn from my mistakes, learn from their mistakes. They probably went
through the same stuff I did their freshman year."
As one would figure with three brothers separated by two years, competition has always been strong.
"There's a good sibling rivalry, ping pong, pool, throwing something in the garbage can," Chris said. "Everybody's got to outdo the other one. They're good competitors amongst each other on the court and on the field."
The boys concede to all having a temper, a natural part of their Irish heritage.
"I've broken a handful of rackets," Cormack said. "For me, the hardest part is the mental side of the game where you have a long rally and mis-hit a ball. You have to stay mentally strong and come back from that, especially with our short tempers."
"We all kind of have short tempers," Riggs adds. "It definitely influences our games."
While the boys have to rein that emotion in sometimes, Cunningham wouldn't trade the quality in a player.
"It's probably why they're the top three players," he said. "It's just something they have to control. I want them to be aggressive but not over-aggressive. It's common sense stuff. I'd rather have that streak than not have it. It's not something you can teach." All three have improved in that (mental) aspect. They're great kids to work with."
With a stronger serve game, Sean and Riggs have styles that mirror each other more than Cormack's, but their approaches aren't drastically different.
"I would say just hustle, never giving up on a point," Sean said. "You never really know what's going to happen."
Having a brother next to them every time they play, the Bardols are sure to try to lend vocal support during matches.
"Baseball is a lot more vocal," Riggs said. "But if Cormack mis-hits, I'll say, 'let's go, Mack.' I don't talk to Sean as much. He doesn't like constructive criticism."
Chris finds that there is a different dynamic to supporting the boys during tennis than there is with baseball.
"Tennis is a team sport, but they're all on the court battling their own individual battles," he said. "Baseball's one game and they're all more in sync in the sense they're all playing together."
As a senior, Cormack is particularly keen to what this season means.
"A huge part of it is making sure I don't take it for granted," he said. "Not a lot of kids get the opportunity to play with their siblings, especially on the same team on the varsity. It's something I've always got to appreciate."