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Now that Hinsdale Central junior Michael Lorenzini has left the Red Devils, the competition to dethrone Martin Joyce as state champion continues to thin out.
Later this month, the Ohio State-bound Joyce will attempt to become Hinsdale Central's first repeat state champion in boys singles since the legendary Marty Riessen won four titles from 1957-1960. Riessen and Deerfield's Mike Morrison (1983-86) are the only players to win four state singles titles since the IHSA began the state tournament in 1912.
Even harder than winning four championships seems to be finding someone willing to play all four years for his high school.
Lorenzini, who finished third at state last season, left the Red Devils two weeks ago - the same week when he committed to Northwestern - to play in national tennis tournaments.
The allure of facing college-caliber competition in national tournaments has caused many of the state's top players to bypass the IHSA regular season.
Website tennis recruiting.net ranks Schaumburg's Vincent Lin, who is busy on the tournament circuit following two successful seasons with the Saxons, as the top player in the state among the Class of 2015.
Ranked right behind Lin is Joyce, who is undefeated on the season after upending Libertyville's Peter Tarwid to win the No. 1 singles title Saturday at Hersey's Pitchford Invitational.
"I like being part of the high school," Joyce said. "I think it's something that is important to do - being part of your school and being with all the guys on the team right now."
At No. 4, Tarwid is the highest ranked senior competing in the IHSA. The top three all have signed letters of intent and are skipping their final year of high school competition: New Trier's Thomas Fawcett (Stanford) and Aron Hiltzik (Illinois) and Lake Zurich's Martin Redlicki (Duke).
"Hinsdale Central has a great tradition of people playing for the high school," Hinsdale Central coach John Naisbitt said. "New Trier seems like it always has great players. It seems they have several [not playing this year]."
Many of the best teenage players are competing year-round and choosing to play in tournaments conducted by the U.S. Tennis Association or International Tennis Federation.
Just four each of the state's top-10 seniors and juniors are playing for their high schools this season. That means a combined 12 of Illinois' best 20 seniors and juniors are bypassing the IHSA season. That now includes Lorenzini, who is ranked No. 3 in the junior class.
"It was a tough decision overall," Lorenzini said. "I decided not to play this year to focus more on my academics and to play more national tournaments and ITFs [International Tennis Federation tournaments]."
Naisbitt said the number of top players deciding to focus only on national tournaments fluctuates, but "this year seems higher than normal.
"We [high school coaches] think about it and we talk about it," Naisbitt said. "Unfortunately, there is not much they can do. It's one of those things. You've seen it in soccer. At Hinsdale Central, we have kids that do not play [high school] and they are fine attending soccer academies."
The IHSA's limit of three national tournaments during the offseason tripped up Lyons junior Alex Ross, a home-schooled student living in Burr Ridge. After competing for the Lyons his freshman season, he intended to return to the high school team this spring after skipping his sophomore year.
Ross, the No. 4 junior in the state, admitted to Lyons coach Bill Wham that while on spring break in California, he played in more than three tournaments.
"When he came back, we talked," Wham said. "I got the rundown and he told me what tournaments he played. He would have been basically ineligible. He did not even turn in his paperwork [to the IHSA]."
Ross is ranked fourth in the state among juniors. His brother Gianni Ross, the No. 1-ranked freshman in the state, also is not competing for Lyons.