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2 Bears stick together in spite of their rivalry

Jane McDonald is No. 1, and Jen Ales would like to be, but they don't let that hinder their doubles dominance.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- They don't seem at all alike. Jane McDonald is more assertive, seemingly more comfortable in her skin and role as Central's No. 1 seed. Jen Ales, the Bears' No. 2 player and McDonald's doubles partner, is more reserved.

Their commonality starts with how they both would like something only one can have -- their team's coveted top seed. It continues with how they remain focused on their role while some might let competition create fissures. It comes full circle with how their improved play the past two seasons, including a 15-1 doubles record as sophomores, has elevated Central from a 3-7 team to eighth in Class 2A last spring.

For McDonald, a Petty Officer Third Class in Central's ROTC program, and Ales, the president of the Beta Club, the common ground is on the tennis court.

"Sure, we both want to be No. 1," McDonald said. "I don't want to say I'm the better player because I am No. 1 right now. By far I am not the better player. I think we're both about as good. It was just that maybe I was having a better day than her during our challenge match.

"But we don't let it get in the way of our doubles because that is important to the team," McDonald said. "Before we start our challenge matches, it's always "Regardless of the outcome of this match, we're doubles partners first.' "

Ales has held the top seed at various times in her two previous seasons. She knows what it's like to win it and lose it. "We're friends on and off the court," Ales said. "There is competitiveness, but if she's No. 1 and I'm No. 2, there will be no hostility or anything."

The juniors do not play together during the summer, so they're going through a third acclimation process as Central begins its season. Their first was when then first-year coach Joe Nicolai put them together as a freshman doubles team.

"We were really not that good back then," McDonald said. "We finished 5-5. We're improving."

Indeed, right down to their instinctual communication.

"We've learned, basically, to read each other's minds," Ales said. "We know what the other one is going to do. We still have to communicate, but we usually never talk. I know if she's going to cover me, and she knows if I'm going to cover her."

They've been almost as good apart. Ales finished 15-1 in regular-season singles last year, losing only to two-time district champion Cristina Lucin of Wesley Chapel. Ales advanced one round in the state tournament. She finished 14-2, losing twice to Lecanto's Mujiba Ansari.

"I see improvement in both," Nicolai said. "They're still working on little areas that need to be worked on. And they're still battling. But they're still good friends."

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