Michael Dalton knows he has big shoes to fill as the No. 1 player for Jay M. Robinson's tennis team.
But after being undefeated in the regular season as the Bulldogs' No. 3 and being runner-up in the South Piedmont Conference singles tournament last year, the all-conference player is up to the challenge.
"Everybody knows Josh (Mosakowski ) and Forrest (Cannon) were great tennis players that came through our school, but I feel like I'm up for that top position," said Dalton.
The senior has worked his way up, starting his freshman year at the No. 10 position for the Bulldogs.
"I had to do my time freshman year and not get to play in the top six and let some seniors do their thing," said Dalton.
But the last two seasons, he developed into a solid No. 3 behind Cannon and Mosakowski - both of who dominated the SPC during their time as Bulldogs.
Robinson coach Sarah Dabbs said Dalton has been successful because of his style of play and the mentality he exhibits on the tennis court.
"He's a very consistent player, who can be very aggressive, but he can also read his opponent really well and figure out how to beat that opponent," said Dabbs.
The 18-year-old describes his style as "conservative."
"I annoy the heck out of all my opponents because I'm that guy who is running back-and-forth, hitting lob shots, forcing them to make a mistake," said Dalton, who explained he's worked on hitting harder in the offseason, but will probably just stick with what he knows best.
Dalton hopes that will allow him to achieve one of his goals - to again go undefeated in the regular season. Although he knows he'll be playing better competition at the team's top spot, he's embraced that opportunity.
"That's the great thing about being No. 1- that you're going to be playing with the best players out there," said Dalton. "I'd rather be doing that than playing kids that I don't have to push myself to be the best I can be."
Dabbs said that attitude comes from having known he would be No. 1 after Cannon and Mosakowski's departure.
"I think he's had time to prepare for that mentally," said Dabbs. "He's embraced it; he enjoys being No. 1."
Dabbs added that Dalton should make his mark on the SPC.
"He definitely has the potential to be the conference champ as a singles player," she said. "But he could also do it in doubles with Andrew Alvarado."
The coach said Dalton has matured into a better player since last season, but what could be more important is his leadership and the example he sets for his teammates.
"He's good at encouraging the guys," she said. "If someone is down, he's the first to tell them, 'Don't stress, don't worry.'"
Dalton and Alvarado, also a senior, along with freshman Kyungmun Baek, who quickly rose up to the No. 3 spot, will lead the Bulldogs as they try to win their third consecutive SPC title.
"I think we'll definitely do it again this year," said Dalton. "Top to bottom our team is really good this year. ... Our No. 4, 5 and 6 are just as strong as our 1, 2 and 3."
The Bulldogs should have a strong chance of winning another conference championship, as their toughest opponent from last year, Hickory Ridge, lost several players to graduation. Cox Mill, which returns all their players, could be Robinson's biggest hurdle on the way to another title.
Dabbs knows it won't be easy to take home another SPC title.
"Everybody will want to bring us down," she said.
Dabbs hopes her team will also focus to make regionals and go back to at least the second round of the 3A playoffs.
Dalton, who will attend UNC Chapel Hill next year, hopes to finish his high school career on a good note.
"I'd definitely like to be the best in the conference," he said. "But there's going to be kids who've practice hard - if not harder than I have - so I'll have to go through them first."