For Justin Wycoff, the months spent between his junior and senior years in 2009 could forever be known as the Summer of Serves. The Concord senior tennis player spent practically his entire summer on the court preparing for his final high school season.
When he wasn't drilling with his coach, Sportscenter's Jeff Hayhurst, Wycoff was instructing youth players. And when he wasn't embedded at the local athletic club, he was playing tournaments around the state twice a week.
Wycoff attests that his summer-long commitment made him the player that he is today: Concord's top-seeded singles player and easily one of the top high school players in Cabarrus County.
Wycoff started playing tennis with private lessons when he was 13 years old. He eventually played in USTA Junior tournaments across the country, climbing as high in the rankings as a No. 29 in the state for boys under 16 years old.
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When he reached Concord High, Wycoff says he had the benefit of learning from Owen Bullard, a senior at the time, and one of the county's all-time great high school players. As a freshman, Wycoff played No. 5 singles, cruising to a 15-2 record and qualifying for regionals.
As a sophomore, Wycoff alternated between the third and fourth seeds for the Spiders and compiled a 14-2 overall mark. But when it came to qualifying for regionals, he and doubles partner Will Propst, a junior, elected to go as a team (a player can qualify for singles or doubles, but not both). They advanced to the second round.
Wycoff says his parents, Jeff and Jane Wycoff, began investing more in their son's tennis future. Justin increased the frequency of his private lessons and the number of tournaments he played in.
He was also growing into his body. An additional 2 inches of height (he's now 5-foot-11) put more zip in his serve, and Wycoff advanced to be the No. 2 singles player in the Spiders' lineup.
As a junior, he continued his pattern of suffering just two losses a season, while capturing a career best 16 victories. Wycoff finished a win shy of qualifying for the regionals as a singles player.
Wycoff learned that playing stronger competition made him a better player.
"I really learned a lot about playing tennis," he said. "In the higher courts (higher seeds), you need to hit more balls."
Spiders coach Bob Allensworth, now in his third year at Concord, continued to observe Wycoff on a steady incline.
"Every year, he is the most consistent player," said Allensworth. "You know what you're going to get. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. He never takes a point off."
Last summer, Wycoff says he sometimes spent 12 hours a day with a racket in his hand. Additionally, he improved his speed and strength with a weight training program that helped him increase his body weight to 155 pounds.
Wycoff finds himself being much more aggressive and Allensworth agrees.
"Now he thrives on the close matches," says Allensworth. "Now he expects to win. He goes out to win them."
Such was the case against Hopewell's Jake Alexander earlier this year. He and Wycoff split the first two sets, but Wycoff jumped on Alexander in the tiebreaker and pulled out a 10-8 victory.
In South Piedmont 3A play, Wycoff won six of his first seven matches, losing only to Jay M. Robinson's Forrest Cannon. Overall, he was 9-1.
"My game transformed a lot last year," said Wycoff. "I was more of a pusher. Now I go for shots. I'm more confident in my strokes. I can hit with power, I can (drive it), and I can hit with top spin."
Wycoff says will be attending The Citadel in the fall and will play on its men's tennis team as a walk-on.