Stevenson's Jeremy Bush was just a sophomore when he played in a No. 1 singles semifinal last spring at the North Suburban Conference boys tennis meet.
But so was Warren's Kristiyan Trukov.
As well as Vernon Hills' Ismail "Ish" Kadyrov.
The other Final Four netter was Lake Forest's Peter Tarwid, a freshman.
Youth wasn't only served at one of the most competitive conference meets in the state.
Youth served aces.
Bush ended up beating Tarwid in the final, captured a sectional singles championship the next weekend and then helped Stevenson finish fourth at the state meet by winning six of eight matches and reaching a semifinal in the back draw.
"Jeremy worked out extensively," Patriots coach Tom Stanhope said earlier this month. "He appears to be stronger."
Bush, of Long Grove, was a sturdy No. 3 in the Boys 16 singles rankings of the USTA's Midwest Region in late October. Bush will be counted on to burn court foes more than ever this spring now that reigning state doubles champs David Packowitz (Marquette) and Ross Putterman (Washington University, Mo.) are bruising tennis balls in college.
Stanhope also welcomed back 2011 state qualifiers Brian Kim and sophomore Andrew Komarov. Kim, a junior, made it to state as a singles player, while Komarov, a sophomore, played doubles at state.
The Pats' top freshman is Colin Harvey.
"Stevenson should again challenge for a trophy at the state tournament," said Warren coach Greg Cohen, in his 16th season as head boys coach at the school.
Warren's Trukov defeated Vernon Hills' Kadyrov in the No. 1 singles match for third place at last year's conference meet and capped the first half of his prep career with his 59th varsity win at the state meet last May. He went 3-2 at state for 12th-place Warren.
"His game looks great," said Cohen. "Kristiyan worked hard in the off-season on his conditioning, strength and core after battling a number of nagging injuries last year."
Current Blue Devils senior Wesley Stoller also qualified for state in singles a year ago. He might end up in doubles this spring, Cohen noted. Look for junior Matt Matheny, a wideout in football, to team up with senior Algis Marcinkevicius at No. 1 doubles.
"Matt is a winner," Cohen said of a 2011 state doubles qualifier who started playing tennis seriously only four years ago.
Count on Grayslake North senior Nate Campanile to end his fourth varsity season at his third straight state meet. The top netter in Grayslake last spring was Grayslake Central's Mitch Granger, now a freshman at Western Illinois University.
Campanile owns that distinction in 2012.
"He's stronger, more confident and more focused," said Knights coach Jill Tomasello, whose '11 squad featured 14 seniors.
Among the top freshmen in the area is Carmel Catholic's Brandon Dechter, younger brother of Ari Dechter, an all-state girls tennis player at Mundelein. He is vying for the top singles spot with Kevin Hunt. The two often play doubles together at USTA tournaments. Corsairs coach Nancy Fehn's top doubles player is fourth-year varsity member Geoff Butler.
Vernon Hills' 12th-year coach, Doug Gerber, guided Cougars to the NSC Prairie title last spring. Kadyrov become the first Cougar in program history to qualify for state, where he won three of five singles matches. The tri-captain won't rely as heavily on his sharp groundstrokes as he did last spring.
"He worked hard in the off-season to improve his net game," Gerber said.
Vernon Hills' other captains are seniors Zack Lee (team-high 22 wins in '11) and Darren Hoveydai, a No. 1 doubles player.
Libertyville juniors Jack Springgate and Eric Klein will turn heads at No. 1 doubles -- and not just because their opponents will do that to protect their faces.
Their results should impress.
"Jack is hungry to do well, and Eric is rock steady and has shown a nice jump in playing level," said Wildcats coach Dan Kiernan, who plans to deploy an all-court freshman, Ben VanDixhorn, at No. 1 singles.
Among the others to watch on the courts this spring: Carmel junior Bryan Hunt (No. 1 doubles); VH sophomore David Dobrik (doubles); Mundelein senior Ryan Jump (No. 1 singles); Lake Zurich senior Dietrich Ihm (singles and doubles); Round Lake senior Tyler Stempinski (singles); Antioch senior Kyler Ward (No. 1 singles); Grant's Mike Menke/Dennis Becker (No. 1 doubles) and Parker Simpson (No. 1 singles); Lakes senior DJ Liebert; and Grayslake Central's Jack Lettinmair/Johnny Lashbrook (No. 1 doubles).
Preseason All-"Scrabble" picks are Warren's Algis Marcinkevicius and Grayslake North's Matt Kizhakkadathu and Diego Novoa-Fernandez … Lakes senior singles player Jeff Perdue spent last spring in Germany as a foreign-exchange student. First-year boys coaches in Lake County are Lake Zurich's Aaron Rogers, Antioch's Neil Lesinski and Grant's Jeremy Anderson … Carmel coach Nancy Fehn lauded Corsairs assistant coach and former DePaul tennis coach Chris Kannenberg as "the real powerhouse for Carmel this year; Carmel is very lucky to have him on board." … Fourteen of Warren's 25 tennis players (all levels) own a 4.0 grade-point average or better. … Stevenson finished only three points out of third place at last year's state meet. … WIU freshman Mitch Granger (Grayslake Central, '11) suffered a torn ligament in his right (dominant) arm and will redshirt this spring. … Neel Desai (Warren, '11) and Steve Kveton (Grayslake Central, '11) play club tennis at Illinois. … Warren's major losses to graduation '11 were doubles partners Nikola Trukov/Eric Seiler (4-2 at state last year) and Desai, a state doubles qualifier with Matt Matheny last year. Seiler plays tennis at Ripon (Wis.) College. … Vernon Hills went 6-0 in the NSC Prairie last spring.
"I am looking forward to watching (Round Lake's) Tyler Stempinski and his scores. He played in our Junior Open and I think he's talented and incredibly quick. He also plays with a lot of heart. I hope he has a great year."
-- Warren boys tennis coach Greg Cohen