CHESTER SPRINGS >> In an age where people argue about the time of day, and opinions on just about every issue are inexorably split, there is, apparently, one local sports issue that everybody can agree upon: Downingtown East’s Michael Dickson is the best high school tennis player in Chester County.
His incredible run through all comers during his junior season this spring was just about as close to perfection as we may ever see in high school athletics. In addition to league, district and state crowns, Dickson was an easy pick as the Daily Local News’ 2016 Player of the Year — and it wasn’t even close.
“Michael didn’t drop a set all season,” said his coach, Chris Waychunas. “I don’t know if there is anybody that’s done that. As long as I’ve been coaching, I don’t know of anybody. That’s pretty remarkable.”
The numbers are off the charts for the 17-year-old from Chester Springs. Dickson was 23-0, and along the way captured his third straight Ches-Mont National title before successfully defending his District 1 crown. To cap it off, he finished the magical season with a championship at the PIAA Singles Championship. And he had a bull’s eye on his back every step of the way.
“It takes a lot of focus and concentration because all the kids I played wanted to play their best because they were playing me. There were no easy matches,” Dickson said.
“I played pretty well throughout the entire season.”
It was a triumphant season, especially if you consider that Dickson had a troublesome offseason. He suffered a broken bone in his left leg last summer. And even though the injury did not require surgery, he was on crutches for a long time and wound up missing four months of playing tennis.
“It took me until the high school season to where I started to feel 100 percent,” Dickson explained. “It was a mental block I had to get past because I had to convince myself that it wasn’t going to break again.”
Waychunas says his prized pupil came back better than ever, with an improved game and an even better mental approach.
“(Dickson) can do everything,” Waychunas said. “He has a tremendous, accurate serve, his ground strokes are exceptional. He really doesn’t have a weakness. His volleying is ATP Tour level.
“More than anything else, what sets him apart is his ability to be calm under pressure.”
It wasn’t always that way. When pressed, Dickson acknowledges he wasn’t always completely composed to go along with a laser-like focus.
“I will be honest: I used to be a bit of a hot-head,” he said. “I wouldn’t get into it with opponents but I’d get mad at myself.
“The one area I’ve improved the most is the mental side. I had to keep my focus on every point instead of looking ahead to certain matches and not taking anyone for granted.”
The 5-foot-11 155-pounder still has another year of high school, and he’ll undoubtedly be the one to beat in the state once again. He plays tennis just about every day this summer preparing for a challenge that may not materialize. Dickson topped his friend, Lower Merion’s Matt Chen, two times in straight sets this spring, including a methodical 6-3, 6-2 victory for the state title.
Not surprisingly, he fields college offers all the time, but Dickson is very excited to have already received scholarship offers from Indiana schools Valparaiso and Butler.
“I’m looking for a smaller Division I in the Midwest,” he said. “My parents grew up in Wisconsin and I really like it out there.”