The Countryside senior not only won singles and doubles state titles, but was undefeated against county opponents.
By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2002
It's a good thing Jennifer Dent has thick skin. If she didn't, she would probably have quit playing tennis a long time ago.
Dent was 11 years old when she entered her first tournament. After two years of training with instructor Krishnan Anandan, Dent felt she was ready to begin playing competitive tennis.
She lost 6-0, 6-0.
"It was a pretty humbling experience," Dent said.
Dent never gave up. She continued to work with Anandan nearly every day. Since that first tournament, Dent, 18, has usually been on the other end of lopsided matches.
As a senior at Countryside this year, Dent had the best season possible. She was undefeated against Pinellas County Athletic Conference opponents as the Cougars No. 1 singles player.
She was a district champion, state champion at No. 1 in the team singles tournament and overall state champion after defeating individual singles winner Christina Keyen of Delray Beach 6-2, 6-0.
Dent teamed with Evangelina Soriano to win the No. 1 team doubles championship and also won the overall doubles title by defeating Tampa King's Laura Gioia and Linda Tien 6-2, 7-5.
Oh yeah, she also helped Countryside win its second straight Class 3A state championship. Dent can also add Times County Player of the Year to her list of honors.
Not a bad senior season.
"It's the best way for my high school career to end," Dent said. "That was a goal of mine at the beginning of the season. I lost in the singles final last year, so I wanted to win it this year."
Prior to this season, Dent signed a scholarship to attend the University of Maryland. She hopes to play either No. 4 or 5 singles for the Terrapins, one of the rising programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Until then, she will remain in Clearwater and continue working with Anandan at the Seminole Lakes Tennis Center. She said she will play few tournaments this summer on the junior circuit, unlike summers past.
"I want to work on getting in better shape," Dent said. "I also want to become a better doubles player. I don't know if I'm going to play doubles (at Maryland), but that's something I want to get better at."
Anandan has watched Dent improve tremendously since that first tournament seven years ago. He feels Dent has even better days ahead.
"She's the most amazing kid I've taught," said Anandan, who is now the director of tennis at Seminole Lakes Tennis Center. "From the very first lesson ever you could tell she had talent. She's a very hard worker, always doing everything you ask and asking questions to get better.
"I've actually seen other girls cry knowing they had to play against Jennifer. Even if you beat her, you're probably in for a 31/2-hour match. ... She'll wear you out."