South Charlotte

Myers Park star striving for one more state title

Myers Park tennis player Jessica Perez loves the freedom of flying solo during tennis matches.

On the court, there are no teammates to lean on. And there is only a net separating the player from the opponent.

That's the way Jessica likes it.

"You're alone out there and you have to figure it out yourself," said the 17-year-old rising senior. "You do have a lot of pressure on yourself, but it's better in the end when you feel more accomplished about what you did."

Pressure hasn't been a problem for Jessica, who made Southwestern 4A All-Conference team in 2009 and 2010. She will be considered one of the Mustangs' top players with the departure of senior Grace Baker.

Tennis has become a family affair for Jessica. Her 16-year-old brother Brian, a rising junior at Myers Park, plays on the boy's varsity team.

Jessica and Brian have played together for over a decade.

"We've grown up playing," said Jessica. "He was my hitting partner. We learned together."

Jessica learned to play at the age of 6. That year, her family moved into a house next to Mason Wallace Park on Monroe Road.

Nobody in the family knew how to play, but her father William thought the available tennis courts looked like a good opportunity.

The three of them picked up racquets for the first time. "At first I didn't really like it," said Jessica. "But I just stuck with it."

Their mother Deianita watched from the sidelines as William taught the kids to play. She isn't much of a tennis player, she confessed.

Deianita has remained actively involved in her children's tennis careers in a cheerleading role. She considers herself their personal cheering section.

"I'm their number one fan," she said.

Jessica said her parents never pushed her into any one activity, so she split her time between hobbies for a few years. She played soccer until eighth grade and learned how to play the piano.

But eventually she lost interest in piano and didn't have the time to kick a soccer ball. When Jessica realized she needed to choose between soccer and tennis, the answer seemed obvious.

"I really did enjoy playing tennis more than soccer," said Jessica." "High school was coming up and playing on the team was a big deal to me."

Jessica said she practices almost every day, whether it's at Mason Wallace Park with Brian, with her personal coach Pender Murphy or with the Myers Park team. Her dedication paid off her freshman year, when she made the varsity team.

The Mustangs made it to the state finals that season. A teammate got sick at the state match and Jessica stepped in.

"It was a great experience," she said. "Being a freshman, to come into the team and actually be able to participate in winning the match."

Myers Park won the state title that year and have been back to the finals twice. Jessica said she hopes to win another title before she graduates.

"Hopefully next year I'll be playing No. 1 singles to lead the team as a senior," said Jessica. "I think that the seniors in my grade will be able to step it up and hopefully pull the team together because we need it to win."

Jessica has already been looking at colleges and hopes to find one with both an architecture program and a tennis team. So far, possible options are North Carolina State and UNC Charlotte.

Wherever she goes, tennis will likely be part of her life, Jessica said.

"I would like to play in college but I'm not sure if that would work with what I'm trying to study," she said. "I know that's going to take up a lot of time, but I really would like to make sure that happens."