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Rimes likes view at the top

The chance to become Lecanto's No. 1 singles player elevates her game.

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

LECANTO -- The writing was on the wall for Jennifer Rimes, and the Lecanto junior understood the message loud and clear.

"I knew I had the opportunity to be the No. 1 (seed), so I started practicing," said Rimes, who played in the No. 3 singles position last year. "I've been practicing up to four days a week.

"I'd take Fridays off and then play USTA matches on the weekends," she said. "I've traveled all over the state for tournaments, and I've practiced real hard."

Panthers coach Joan Roberts -- who faced the same situation last season when her daughter, Jessie, vaulted from No. 3 to the team's top spot -- is hoping that extra commitment pays off again.

Like Rimes, Jessie Roberts took the promotion seriously, becoming a dominant player. Roberts helped lead Lecanto to its third consecutive perfect regular season and third place in the Class 2A state championships.

By all appearances, Rimes has taken the challenge just as seriously. She has attended camps and practiced with more regularity and spirit. Plus, she's polished those skills on the state's junior circuit. "She's really hitting strong," Joan Roberts said. "The practice and the tournaments she played this summer really helped her this year."

Rimes is no stranger to pressure. As a freshman in 2000, she played a large role in the Panthers' run to the state tourney, scoring the decisive victory in the regional championship against Orlando Bishop Moore.

Adding to the pressure of the moment was the fact all her teammates had completed their matches and gathered to watch the final battle.

Rimes noticed the crowd, but dispatched it from her mind before dispatching her opponent in three sets to clinch the title for Lecanto.

Rimes has improved steadily since. She was 17-2 last season, her only losses coming in the district and state tournaments. Her progress has been noticeable -- from the added power and consistency of her ground strokes to the way she thinks on the court.

"With all the travel, you play a lot of people and you learn everybody's different style of playing," Rimes said. "You also learn how to adjust your game.

"I went to a camp and learned that tennis is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical."

Rimes offseason experience has paid off in other ways. "She's becoming a leader, which is nice," Roberts said.

"A leader is someone who pulls the team together and can make them either stronger or lazier," the coach said. "So, it's important to have someone up there who encourages the others to do better."

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