NORTH ANDOVER - A year out of high school, Vince Bellino was at a crossroads.
Academics seemed tedious. Baseball, after a pedestrian career at Andover High, had flickered away. Bellino, a 2010 Andover High grad, took a drastic measure that changed his life.
"I went out to California, and tried the tennis thing," said Bellino, a hardcourt whiz while growing up, who was so "burnt out" on the game his freshman year in high school that he gave it up.
"I went out there for about a year, and traded (ground strokes and volleys) with a couple top-notch guys," recalled Bellino. "Nothing academic, just straight tennis. It was the best thing for me. The caliber of kids was amazing. I hadn't picked up a racket for four years. And I just decided it was the only option that I had."
Bellino found a home at Merrimack College. This weekend, the freshman and the Warriors will compete in the NCAA Division 2 tourney.
He may wear the "Andover High Baseball" Under Armor on the practice court, but make no mistake, Bellino has morphed back into a tennis junkie.
"Without the California experience, I wouldn't be here at all," said Bellino, who said at the age of 12 he was a top 100 player nationally. "You learn quick how to be on your own. That's what I learned. Scholastically, my grades weren't there. And tennis became a gateway to college."
Bellino has prospered on court and in the classroom - going a combined 29-15 in singles and doubles and academically earning a spot on the President's List (3.6 GPA or higher).
"Since I got here, I've turned over a new leaf," said Bellino.
"Tennis helps me allocate time. It forces me to structure my days. Playing a sport helps you delegate the proper time to each."
As one of only six players on the Merrimack team - you need six to compete in a match - Bellino has embraced the team and the team concept.
"This is very special with six players in six spots," he said.
"You have to push forward no matter what minor injury you have. You're not thinking about yourself. It's all 'I have to do what I have to do to get on the court and perform every day.' To be on the team with six spots and six players, it's amazing."