Stephen bracing himself for difficult tests on and off the court
Despite winning the Ulster Under-19 squash title this month, Stephen Hearst goes into February's Irish competitions more in hope than expectation.
The 17-year-old from Newtownards beat long-time rival Todd Gowdy in Belfast to take the Ulster crown, but with A-Levels looming large on the horizon, Hearst has admitted that study has taken priority.
Hearst will still enter the Irish Senior National Championships in Dublin in the second week of February, but admits his mind frame has changed.
"This season has been tough because it's my big year with A-Levels, so I've cut down on tournaments a bit to compensate for studying, but I've been doing a lot of training and mainly focusing on that," said the Regent House Grammar School pupil, who benefits from the SSE Next Generation programme.
"The Irish Seniors will be a see what happens sort of thing because the top senior players are there and I'm only 17, so it's about experience.
"The Juniors are two weeks after that and I'll probably be in the top three there. But for now I'm just focusing on training and don't have many expectations - I'll see how they go."
The teenager - son of former professional Jeff Hearst - first won the Ulster U19 title as a 12-year-old.
"I haven't played it for a few years," he added. "I won it the first time I played it about five years ago. But ever since I haven't played it because there's been a senior event on, but it wasn't on this year."
SSE's Next Generation programme partners with SportsAid to provide financial support and training to the sports stars of the future. Keep up to date with the latest at @SSENextGen