Ryan Wydra admits he didn't have high expectations on the tennis courts coming into his first year of high school.
But the Hough freshman went on to surprise even himself.
Wydra beat out former North Mecklenburg No. 1 player Collin Black for the Huskies' top job before going undefeated in the regular season playing against a talented and experienced group of I-Meck competitors on his way to winning the conference tournament title.
"Just to beat out Collin was a huge achievement," the 15-year-old said. "Either one of us could have been No. 1. I think he's just as good as I am."
Wydra said he knew being No. 1 would be a challenge, but he didn't back down from it.
"I was going into every match just thinking, 'I'm going to play the best guy here ... someone older than me, someone who has played high school tennis before,'" he said.
"But I just tried to ignore that and play my game."
Wydra is a skillful player on the court, who uses his effective groundstroke to stay on the offense and keep opponents off balance. Not being a power hitter, he admits his focus is on ball placement.
"I try to force my opponent to move just enough until I can get that short ball to put it away," said Wydra.
Hough coach Alice Hansen said she has the perfect word to describe Wydra's style: methodical.
"He plans out what he's going to do - he sees the whole court sort of like a chess player," she said.
"He can evaluate who he's playing - what their weaknesses, their strengths are - and use that to his advantage."
Hansen, who had Wydra in class before tennis season, added that his maturity on and off the court impressed her throughout the year.
"He's like an old soul with a young heart," she said.
Along with that, Wydra's positivism - his "life-is-good" approach - and the dedication he has for tennis is what separates him from the competition, said Hansen.
Wydra has been playing tennis since he was 10, playing competitively year-round at River Run for the past few years.
He explained that he plays four to six days a week regardless of the weather, taking only the week between Christmas and New Year's off, although even then he goes out and hits to keep his rhythm.
Wydra partially credits that work for his performance this year.
"I guess it's preparation meets opportunity," he said.
Wydra said he enjoys playing tennis because of the individual aspect of the sport.
"I like the idea that if I make a mistake, if I were to lose a match, that would be on me," the 6-foot-1 freshman said. "On a team sport, you can mask mistakes behind other players, but in tennis you can't do that."
Wydra said that has pushed him to become a better tennis player.
He said that he feels like he's improved physically and emotionally since the beginning of the season.
"To get past that stress after this season is a big breakthrough for me," said Wydra of the pressure he felt as the Huskies' top player. "I hope to come back next season and help the team out even more than I did this year."
Hough was 7-2, 5-2 in the I-Meck, this year, without any seniors on its roster.
"I'm proud of my boys," said Hansen, who's in her first season coaching. "They've done great, especially for a first-year program."
She gave Black a lot of credit for the team's success, as he decided to embrace the role as the No. 2 player instead of trying to challenge Wydra throughout the year and cause conflict within the team.
"He understood," said Hansen of her junior captain. "He didn't worry about where he was playing, instead he focused on how he was helping the team."
With Wydra and Black both being 9-0 (7-0 in conference play) during the regular season at the top two spots, the Huskies breezed through most of their matches.
But Hansen would like her players to get stronger at the rest of the singles spots and in doubles next season, when her entire squad should return. She said for that to happen her players will have to improve their endurance and their competitive spirit.
Both Wydra and Black, who finished fourth at the I-Meck tournament, will compete in May 6's individual regionals and hope to play at states the following week.
The Huskies also have a chance to be wildcard selections for the dual team playoffs.
Wydra will spend the summer on the courts again, playing at college camps at Clemson and Wake Forest and a few U.S. Tennis Association events. He said he'll probably play in three tournaments a month during the break.
He won't mind putting in the work on the sport he's grown to love.
"You can do anything on a tennis court," said Wydra. "When I go out there I feel sort of empowered."