After losing in the first round last year, Jennifer Dent looks to return to the state tournament.
By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001
Countryside junior Jennifer Dent has a simple philosophy on the court: Talk softly and carry a big racquet.
Dent is not the most physically imposing player on the court. She's relatively quiet off the court. But to take her lightly would be a mistake.
"She's been one of our more consistent players," Countryside coach John Williams said. "She's settled in at No. 1 and stayed there all season."
She has certainly made an impression since her freshman season.
Dent failed to qualify for the state tournament in her freshman year, but it wasn't from a lack of effort. She had to face Seminole All-American Lori Grey in the district tournament and lost. Grey went on to win the individual state championship.
Last season, Dent qualified for the state tournament as an individual and in doubles with Jennifer Watts. Dent lost to Boca Ciega's Tiffanie Kalvoda in the opening round of the individual tournament.
"I'm looking forward to getting back (to state)," Dent said. "I think my game gets a little better when the district tournament comes around. I look at districts as a time when I really need to be playing well."
Dent didn't start playing tennis until she moved to Florida with her family in 1994. Prior to that, Dent lived in Ontario, Canada, where she swam in the winter and played soccer in the summer.
Her parents grew tired of the Canadian winters and moved to Florida when Dent was in fourth grade. It was then when she first picked up a racquet. She practically has had one in her hand ever since.
"I played in a couple of tournaments that first year, and I was ranked like 25th (in her age group)," Dent said. "But I just kept playing and kept getting better."
This year, Dent is the top player on a team loaded with quality. Two players, Evangelina Soriano and Anastasiya Sokolova, moved into the Countryside district before the season and play No. 2 and 3, respectively. Both of those players are regulars on the Florida Junior circuit as well.
Dent is undefeated in conference play, but she gets pushed in practice by the two newcomers.
"We have a really good team," Dent said. "There's some pressure on me to stay No. 1. But we're all very encouraging to each other. We think we have a good chance to do well at state."
The state tournament motivates Dent. She might have to face Kalvoda again. As long as she has another chance, she said she will be happy.
"You have to get there first," Dent said. "I've been playing pretty well. Hopefully I will."