Before his ninth grade year, Henry Paiste made a difficult decision. So far, it's paying off.

He loves playing tennis and wants to go as far as he can in the sport. After attending middle school at Moravian Academy, he decided to start being home schooled in order to focus more on his tennis game.

This past school year while his friends were in class, he was either studying at home or working on his game.

"It was tough," he said. "I didn't know what to expect going into home schooling. I miss [friends from school], but I have no regrets. I love what I'm doing now."

Much of Paiste's focus is on the United State Tennis Association tournaments. Because he is a Northwestern School District resident and that district allows home schooled athletes to compete in its programs, Paiste was able to enter this year's District 11 Class AA singles tournament.

The Tigers don't have a tennis program, so Paiste didn't play team matches during the season. He earned the school's only bid to districts by qualifying through the Northwestern Tennis Association.

Paiste won the district singles tournament and because of that success he was named The TIMES NEWS Tennis Player of the Year.

The No. 4 seed in the 32-player tournament, Paiste breezed through the first four matches, winning each in just two sets. He faced his first deficit in the championship match, but eventually beat his former school mate, Andrew Ma of Moravian Academy, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

He had been to districts as a spectator and enjoyed finally playing in it.

"It's one thing seeing your friends play in it," Paiste said. "Playing in it yourself is a whole different thing."

Although he didn't surrender more than three games in any set over his first four matches, he fell behind Ma early then rallied. He won the second and crusied through the third.

"I was in a pretty big hole after that first set," he said.

Paiste went on to the state tournament where he lost in the first round, 6-2, 6-4 to York Suburban senior Evan Andrews, the District 3 runner up. Despite the loss, playing at States was a valuable experience.

"I saw a lot of great tennis players," he said.

He plans to return to districts next year and hopes to get back to States. His goal is to play college and maybe pro tennis one day, and he seems on track to do that.

His game has improved greatly over the past year because of the time he has put into it.

Working with trainer John Graham and coach Fred Serino, Paiste sometimes spends five or six hours a day training, practicing and playing matches. He has gotten faster, stronger and more agile thanks to Graham. He has strengthened his technique and strategy while fine-tuned his strokes thanks to Serino.

"I owe a lot of credit to both of my coaches," he said.

Paiste also credits his parents, Juhan and Ursula, for supporting his decision.

"I have to give a big thanks to my parents," he said. "I wouldn't be anywhere without them. They are always behind me."

Unlike some promising young players, Paiste doesn't want to go to a full-time tennis academy in a warm-weather state. He enjoys his home state and being close to friends and family.

But he does run across and compete against players from the tennis factories. When interviewed for this story, he was in Boca Raton, Fla., at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy where he spent three weeks this summer.

"I run across kids who play here full time," Paiste said. "I think it's a great experience. But I really like living in Pennsylvania."

He's been playing in USTA tournaments since around age 12. There are three levels of USTA events district, sectional and national.

In the 14 and under age group he was the No. 1 ranked player in his district and was in the top 30 in his section, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and part of Maryland.

He's now 15 years old and recently moved up to the 16 and under group. He's trying to accumulate ranking points in order to qualify for some national events, which would be a huge boost to his career and overall goal.

He knows how far off his pro and college tennis careers are.

"There are so many steps to get there," Paiste said. "Right now I hope to play Division I college."

That tough decision he made over a year ago put him on the right path to reach those goals.

"Luckily it paid off a little bit," he said.