Growing up in Columbia -- a community not exactly known for producing top tennis players -- hasn't stopped Gibault High School senior Michael Lesko from excelling in the sport.
In his three years as the Hawks top player, Lesko has won 71 percent (61-24) of his matches, a sectional singles championship and qualified for the state finals in each of the last two years.
And now with the help of Hawks coach Jay Haines and teaching professional John Connors, Lesko's tennis career will move on to the college level. The 18-year-old Lesko will sign an NCAA Division II national letter-of-intent next week to attend Quincy University.
"It's a Division II program and its a very good D-II program," Lesko said. "I didn't want to go D-I because I think it would be too demanding. I don't know if I could handle it that well.
"Also Quincy is a small school, a Catholic school, like Gibault. It just fits my personality really well.''
One of the top players on the Missouri Valley circuit during the summer, Lesko also considered McKendree University and St. Louis University before deciding on Quincy.
Quincy is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Lesko made his official visit to Quincy in August.
"I liked McKendree and SLU. But I think it was just the overall atmosphere at Quincy that I liked the most,'' Lesko said. "Quincy is a nice small community like Columbia.
"The tennis program is good. It's a good, total-team environment. Everybody gets along very well. They've got good players, good quality competitive players. I feel like I'll be able to fit right in.''
Lesko has fit right in as one of the top players in Southern Illinois for the past three years. Known as one of the toughest competitors in the area, Lesko plays tennis all year long both in the Waterloo/Columbia and Belleville regions.
Lesko said he has worked with Connors, long one of the top teaching professionals in the metro-east, for the past three or four years.
As for his playing style, Lesko thinks of himself as a baseline player.
"I'm more comfortable on the baseline,'' Lesko said. "I've got good power from both sides (forehand and backhand) and because of my powerful groundstrokes I'm able to come to the net to put points away. I've got improve on my net play though.
"As for my serve, I'm working on it. It's getting stronger.''
Lesko plans on majoring in either accounting or business at Quincy. He is the son of Alan and Julie Lesko of Columbia.