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DECATUR -- Three years ago, Harrison Hines was ruled academically ineligible and, by his own account, overweight.

Today, the MacArthur senior will make his first state tennis finals appearance against Carlos Gutierrez of Oak Park Fenwick at Wheeling High School.

It's also the first boys singles state finals appearance for MacArthur since the spring of 2006 when Timo Bess and Nate Groesch each made the trip to the Chicago suburbs.

Hines dedicated himself to the game, got in shape -- losing roughly 55 pounds since his freshman year -- and saw his game improve.

"I used to play year round," Hines said. "I played at least six hours a day because I had nothing else better to do. I was overweight, fat, and didn't have many friends. Tennis was a best friend to me and I played until the sun went down."

He still plays until dusk.

Coach Tyrone Carson doesn't struggle to find him. The senior is most often at a tennis court, honing his game and challenging anyone nearby to play.

Even after Hines finished fourth in the Class 1A Champaign Centennial Sectional, he still kicked off Monday's practice well before everyone else -- even his coach.

"I said, 'How long have you been out here?' He said, 'Since 2 o'clock.' We didn't practice until four," Carson said.

Tuesday, he played until the rain washed him off the court.

Hines learns something new every day. He's always looking for ways to improve his game, whether he is on the court or watching Rafael Nadal keep the ball in play or Serena Williams' powerful serve. He tries to take bits from both of his favorite pros.

Carson has always welcomed Hines to the courts, even when he was academically ineligible as a freshman because of poor grades. The coach allowed Hines to continue to practice with the team, even though he couldn't play in any matches.

That led to a hunger visibly eating at Hines.

"He was seeing the kids in the matches while he had to sit and watch," Carson said. "He realized he wasn't going to let that happen."

Hines said he spent too much time playing tennis, and not enough time on his school work.

"When I started seeing the results, it made me want to turn it around and practice on my grades," Hines, who now is an "A", "B" and "C" student, added.

Despite the time he devoted to tennis, it nearly ended sooner than expected at the sectional.

He won his first match against JP Ridge of Champaign St. Thomas More, but lost his first set of the second match to St. Teresa's Jake Stahl. Hines rallied back to win the next two sets, 6-1, 6-2, to advance to the semifinals.

Thanks to the devotion to losing weight, Hines had the stamina to keep the ball in play and wait for Stahl to make a mistake.

That's exactly what happened.

Carson said Hines turned into a backboard on defense, going on a roll and not missing any returns. 

"All I had to do was keep hitting the ball and wait for my opponent to make a mistake," Hines said.

"If you blink, he's going to take advantage of it," Carson added.

Hines lost to Mount Zion's Andy Hinch in the semifinals and Braves' senior Nick Laramee in the third-place match.

Teutopolis, Mount Zion well-represented

Both Teutopolis and Mount Zion won their respective Class 1A sectionals.

The Shoes won the Casey-Westfield Sectional, and the Braves won the Champaign Sectional.

Mount Zion advanced as a team to the Chicago suburbs. Andy Hinch and Nick Laramee advanced in singles and the doubles teams of Adrienne Velasco-Joe Demirjian and Tristan Balgemann-Peter Brandon also advanced.

For Teutopolis, Kyele Mossman and Joseph Esker advanced in singles and the doubles team of Noah Pals and Alex Probst moved on to state.

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