Toast of the Coast

Toast of the Coast: Dayton steers St. James tennis to unprecedented success

Jeffrey Dayton’s been here before, answering questions about his own play on tennis courts around the area and state.

Having run his current winning streak to 43 consecutive regular-season and team playoff matches while playing for St. James, Dayton is accustomed to success, and plenty of it. However, being a part of a Sharks lineup that has made waves is altogether new to him.

The The Sun News’ three-time Toast of the Coast Boys Tennis Player of the Year is enjoying every minute.

“The past couple years, we haven’t done as well,” Dayton said. “It means a lot to me that they’ve played better. They’ve tried harder. Our team’s just getting better.”

Behind Dayton at No. 1 singles, St. James finished third in Region VII-AAA, earning a postseason bid, and then notched a pair of upset victories to advance to the Lower State semifinals.

Only a loss against perennial power Hilton Head ended a run that gave the Sharks their first two playoff wins in school history.

As for Dayton, his own play was, well, exactly what we’ve come to expect. The team’s fifth-year No. 1 singles player hasn’t lost a match St. James since he was in eighth grade.

This season, he was 16-0 in team play – playing every match St. James had – and then finished as the Class AAAA/AAA state singles tournament runner-up, losing only to Spartanburg’s Chambers Easterling.

As coach Lee Cannon said, though, all of Dayton’s time on the courts around the Southeast in outside matches may also be what fuels him to be such a huge part of the St. James lineup.

“He whips someone up pretty quick on the court. Then he comes over as fast as he can [to watch teammates],” Cannon said. “I think he just really enjoys being a part of the team.

“He is such an individual so much, his emotion just rises. He’s excited to see how we’re doing. I think a lot of the time throughout the year, he’s in his own program. When he gets a chance to be a part of a group, he takes ownership of it.”

Being a leader or even a “second coach,” as Cannon has put it in the past, is maybe only as effective as it has been because Dayton is absolutely dominant.

In 73 percent of his matches during his impressive three-year streak, he has won 6-0, 6-0. He isn’t getting sick, hasn’t been injured and continues to impress.

“When he goes out there, he’s playing against you, but he’s also practicing,” Cannon said as to the focus that has kept his top player healthy. “He’s hitting his targets. It’s like he’s using that time – he knows he’s in a match – but he’s using that time for repetition. He doesn’t just go out there to play. He goes out there with a purpose.”

That purpose has been two-fold.

A year ago, Dayton was nearly clamoring to be a part of a Sharks team that won as a whole. Now he’s got one, with one more year to see where he can steer it.

“It’s great that I had the individual success, but it’s great that we’re playing together and having success together,” he said. “We beat Aiken and Hartsville [in the playoffs]. It’s amazing, really. It’s very special. It really is.”

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The team

Boys Tennis Player of the Year

Jeffrey Dayton

▪ School | St. James

▪ Class | Junior

▪ Notable | Three-time All-State selection ran his record in team matches over the course of the last three seasons to 43-0 while going 16-0 this year. Finished as the runner-up in the Class AAAA/AAA state singles tournament and helped the Sharks win their first two playoff matches in school history.

Britton Bellamy

▪ School | Socastee

▪ Class | Sophomore

▪ Notable | Class AAAA All-State honoree was 14-1 overall between Nos. 1-2 singles. Was 2-2 in the state singles tournament after helping Braves to third round of the state team tournament.

Justin Dunn

▪ School | Waccamaw

▪ Class | Senior

▪ Notable | Class AA/A state singles tournament runner-up was 11-2 this year en route to third consecutive All-Region VIII-AA and All-State honors.

Isaac Giddens

▪ School | Myrtle Beach

▪ Class | Junior

▪ Notable | All-Region VII-AAA selection was 7-7 overall at No. 1 singles. He was 4-3 in region competition and helped Seahawks to a first-round team playoff victory.

Paul Hendrix

▪ School | Waccamaw

▪ Class | Sophomore

▪ Notable | Three-time Class AA/A state singles champion and three-time Region VIII-AA Player of the Year was 6-1 this year for Waccamaw. Has lost just once in school career.

Ben Hewes

▪ School | Waccamaw

▪ Class | Junior

▪ Notable | Class AA/A state singles tournament consolation champion and All-State honoree was 13-7 overall without a loss to a region opponent throughout the season.

Noah Johnson

▪ School | Socastee

▪ Class | Freshman

▪ Notable | While playing between Nos. 2-4 singles, tallied a 13-1 overall record and helped the Braves to the third round of the state playoffs.

Ethan Smith

▪ School | Socastee

▪ Class | Senior

▪ Notable | Area’s lone North-South All-Star selection and North Greenville signee was 7-2 in singles action while also pairing up for a 6-0 double record.

Coach of the Year

Lee Cannon

▪ School | St. James

▪ Notable | After leading Sharks to the playoffs for the first time last season, took St. James to the third round this spring, winning its first two postseason team matches in school history.

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