CHARLOTTE – One of Mark Dillon’s favorite things about playing Court 1 for one of the state’s best teams is that he’s representing his school.
To Dillon, that means more than it would to most Mustangs.
His uncle played Court 1 for the Mustangs in the 1970s, and his father, Mark Sr., helped Myers Park win consecutive state championships during the 1977 and 1978 seasons. Mark Sr. also won the 1978 NCHSAA individual singles title. More recently, Dillon’s older and middle brothers have played for the Mustangs.
So, it’s very important that Dillon not only carry on the family tradition, but also the Mustangs-rich tradition of success.
“I’m the fourth Dillon to play on Court 1 and it’s pretty neat,” he said. “I’ve watched my older brothers play on this court and they’ve all come out to watch me play, so it’s just neat to carry on the tradition. And it’s nice and a good responsibility to be the number one player, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re playing one or six because every point counts. At the same time it’s great being at one and representing Myers Park.”
And through his junior season, he’s doing just fine with that.
He led the Mustangs to their seventh state championship as a sophomore in 2017 with a pair of matches that sum up how Dillon approaches tennis and what it means to play for the Mustangs.
Dillon matched up with Northwestern commit Trice Pickens, the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2018, who beat him handedly in a 6-2, 6-1 defeat that had the Mustangs down 4-2 and one loss away from losing the match.
Undeterred, Dillon teamed with Sam Dean to defeat Pickens and his teammate 10-8 in a back-and-forth tense match.
The Mustangs would go on to win all three doubles matches and wrap up the season 21-0 and with the state title.
Dillon calls it the greatest moment of his career. Myers Park coach Ed Flynn says it’s just how his star responds to adversity.
“His mental strength is great, but he’s an all-court athlete and he’s got a strong mental game that you don’t see that often,” Flynn said. “He’s got that approach where he puts bad points behind him and can easily move on to the next point. During his sophomore and junior years he’s been our (number one player) and the guy that sets the tone. He’s always had the mentality of being a one, though.”
Despite losing starters Flynn Stover and Christopher Williams from that team, Dillon and his mates wanted to repeat like his father had done nearly 40 years earlier.
The Mustangs came as close as they could get, going 17-1 with their only loss coming against Enloe in the championship final.
“It’s was great to go undefeated and I think we won 38 matches in a row, so it was great to get there again and show that we could still get there and were a strong team, even though we did lose a couple of players,” Dillon said. “It is more difficult to repeat what we did last year, but we still had a great season that we’re proud of.”
Dillon’s individual season went well, too.
He went 15-1 in singles play and 5-0 in doubles. He won the conference and regional titles by defeating Dean, his teammate and doubles partner, got to the finals of the NCHSAA 4A individual championship and is the 2018 South Charlotte Weekly Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“I was proud of my season,” he said. “I had a great tournament run. I beat a D-I commit going to Bucknell (Lake Norman’s Ryan Jurist) in the semis and I had to grind that one out. I played an incredible player in the finals (Pickens again) and I was gassed, so he took me out. But it was great to represent Myers Park in the state finals because those are fewer and far between.”
Dillon has another year with teammates Dean, Charlie Reiney and Ben Richards, along with a host of guys capable and ready to step into larger roles.
But first, there’s the recruiting process.
Dillon is a 4.0 student, a member of the Dream Team and a heck of a tennis player who Tennisrecruiting.net has ranked as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 player in the state and within the top 200 players nationally.
He has interest from schools like Davidson, Duke, Harvard, N.C. State, Penn and Vanderbilt.
Dillon also has other academic ventures possibly in the works and wants to go to a good business school.
“Recruiting is stressful and complicated because there’s an academic aspect, a financial aspect and an athletic aspect to it,” he said. “It’s great to be recognized for all of the hard work you put in, but it does get complicated and tricky, too.”
Dillon is in no rush to decide on where he’ll play in college, but he is excited to return for one more season atop the Mustang lineup.
“It would be great to take another title,” he said. “We will lose two starters, but our one through nine players are very, very similar so we can have two or three guys fill in. That should make us even stronger than last year. I think we have a shot to do it and win it all.”
Flynn said with Dillon leading his talented teammates, anything is possible.
“He handles it all so well,” Flynn said. “It’s sad that he’s going to be a senior next year. It’s been a really nice luxury to have someone of his caliber around to lead us. It’s a team sport, and he understands that, because he just has a really high tennis IQ and is a great player and leader for us.”