NCCU tennis player Dillon Strepay has been on the court all his life.
But prior to this season, he had virtually no tennis experience.
His sport has always been basketball. He played through high school, and he’s been team manager for NCCU’s men’s basketball team since 2013.
Now he’s playing tennis against some of the best young talent in the world. It all started when he signed up for a tennis class at NCCU, last year.
“I thought tennis could be a fun hobby,” he said.
Just three weeks into the class, two women’s tennis players helping with the class approached him about a vacancy on the men’s team.
The team had already been forced to cancel a match against Duke and postpone a match against Davidson, so the Coaches were eager to fill the empty slot.
After a quick try out, Strepay was cleared by the NCAA Friday, February 12, and would play his first match the next day in Lynchburg Virginia at Liberty University.
With his first match just a day away, Strepay was keeping his expectations realistic.
“If people have been playing for twelve years and this is your first time trying it, the person with more experience is probably gonna be able to kick your butt at it,” he said.
His first match was a reality check. So he got to work.
He had individual workouts with assistant coach John McLean.
“It’s been a higher learning curve for him,” McLean said. “I’ve been having him hit more balls than normally the other players would, helping him develop the technique.”
He did all the right things. Listened to his coaches, did the drills, went to the workouts, and learned from losses.
But life doesn’t always pan out like a Rocky movie. The workout montage doesn’t always lead to victory.
“He would love to win every match,” McLean said. “But obviously his skillset is limited.”
Win six games, and you’ve won a set. Best two out of three sets wins the match.
He hasn’t beaten an opponent in a match yet. But that’s not how his coaches were evaluating success. They just wanted to see improvement, and they did.
“I won a game at Longwood University last week and one earlier in the day against Hampton University,” Strepay said. “So to win two games against Virginia State is another inch forward in my progress as a player.”
Winning a couple games in a set may still leave Strepay far from taking a match, but he remains focused on continual improvement, he said.
“I’m getting more consistent with my forehand and backhand and just working on improving my game every day,” he explained.
Beyond tennis, he’s had the unique opportunity to be a player and manager.
“As a manager, you’re helping coaches with scheduling, carrying bags, doing the laundry,” he explained. “Now that you’re an athlete, all that is done for you.”
So will he give it another shot?
“Dillon’s been a great student athlete on and off the court, academically and athletically,” McLean said. “We look forward to having him back, if he wants to come back.”
“My plans are to return to the team next year,” Strepay said. “And my goal is to win a match.”