Dillon Gooch remembers exactly when his tennis career started.
He was 5 and driving through Colonel Beatty Park in Union County one day with his parents when they passed the tennis courts where a couple of people were hitting balls back and forth.
He remembers being taken with the fast-paced action of the game. Like most boys growing up, Gooch had tried soccer, but there wasn’t enough action. Baseball was too slow and boring.
But tennis was an immediate fit.
“I liked the action of tennis and being able to hit the ball within a few seconds over and over. It was more fun for me than any other sport I’d tried before,” he said.
From there, Gooch has been climbing up leaderboards and making a name for himself in the junior circuits and later on the USTA tour. He is ranked No. 2 in the state in the Class of 2018 and within the top 125 players in the nation, according to Tennisrecruiting.net.
Achieving high rankings requires countless hours on the court practicing, time away for big events and playing in as many tournaments as possible.
Gooch has done all of that for years, but it’s with his teammates on his high school team where he feels most comfortable.
Despite Carmel Christian having a really good team Gooch’s freshman year, the NCISAA ruled them ineligible for postseason play, fearing they wouldn’t be competitive enough.
Gooch and his teammates were disappointed. They were also motivated to show they deserved to compete with the state’s best.
With Gooch as their leader, the Cougars won the next two NCISAA 2A championships. But as he prepared for his senior season and one more crack at a state championship, Gooch said it felt a little bit different.
“There was a little more pressure on us to win it again this year,” he said. “We had already won it twice, and we had pretty much the same team, so people expected us to win it. This year we didn’t get the No.1 seed in the tournament and that added to it. We had to prove we deserved to be the top seed and end the year with another championship.”
Gooch certainly did his part. He was 12-0 in singles and 11-0 in doubles play – including going 6-0 with his younger brother, Matthew, as his partner – while leading the Cougars to their third straight state title.
“It was amazing to win it again,” Gooch said. “We finished what we started with the third one. It was a little sad that it was my last match and the last time going at it with my guys that I have pretty much been with since my freshman year. But it was awesome to end it with a win.
“And I love playing with my brother. This year, we had an injury so I got to play doubles with him a lot. It was awesome since it was probably the last time I’ll get to play with him. That part was really fun.”
Gooch raves about his teammates and how close they’ve gotten over the past four years. And, he said, one of the best parts about the team’s run was getting to be a leader for a group of guys that he respected and that respected him.
And going by on-the-court results, there was a lot to be in awe of about Gooch’s game.
He didn’t lose a single match – doubles or singles – over the course of the past three years. He’s been the Cougars No. 1 player since his freshman season. He’s a four-time NCISAA all-state selection, a UNC Wilmington signee and the 2018 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“Dillon’s stability and leadership over these past four years has been fantastic,” Carmel Christian coach Kellie Kayton said. “Dillon is someone the boys can look up to and he brings confidence to them. They know they can look to him for encouragement and support, and Dillon is someone they can always count on. He’s a great tennis player, but an outstanding young man and the type of leader anyone would want on their team.”
Gooch said he’s a little sad to leave, but excited for his future. He has a great rapport with his Wilmington coach and teammates and said he’s going to love living at the beach. Those were all factors in choosing the Seahawks over Virginia Tech, Louisville, Charlotte, Xavier and Michigan State, who were among his other suitors.
But no matter where Gooch would have ended up, he says he’ll always be home with the Cougars.
“I’ve been playing since I was 5 and put in a lot of time and a lot of hours,” he said. “I do a lot of work on the court and also off the court where I do a lot of running and stuff to keep myself in shape to play. But it’s all been worth it. Sometimes practice gets a little tiring and I’ll say, ‘Oh, do I really have to do this?’ But at the end of the day, I love tennis and it’s never a burden to come out and play.
“This has been a great experience. I wouldn’t have wanted to play on any other team or with any other guys. I’ve been with them all four years. Winning the three state championships has been amazing, but knowing we’ve created the culture of winning is great, too. I expect them to win it again without me, but it was nice to be a part of it.”
Go online to see who made the Mecklenburg County Super Team. Some of the familiar names include Alex Bitter of Providence Day and Matthews Gooch of Carmel Christian.