(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Jenni DeWitt throws the ball in the air with her tennis racket cocked behind her. As the ball rises she brings her racket up and meets the ball at its apex. The ball pops off the racket and goes speeding across the net into the corner of the service box, out of reach of her opponent. Perfect.
DeWitt, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, doesn't smile but immediately starts thinking about her next shot. A shot, that like the last, she wants to be perfect.
So far this year, DeWitt has been perfect. She currently holds a 20-0 record and rolled through the Class 1, District 1 tournament without giving up a game, marking the fourth time the senior will head to the state tournament.
"To go (to state) all four years of high school is really exciting for me," DeWitt said. "I've tried to work my hardest through the off-season and that's how I got to where I am."
For DeWitt, the hard work is part of the game. In the summer of 2006, she went to Europe and attended several tournaments with the John Newcombe Tour Team. This past summer, DeWitt spent plenty of time at the Rowten Tennis Center in Paducah, Ky.
"I went to (Nathan Rowten) almost every day this summer," DeWitt said. "I spent a lot of time with his family and I got to know them as a family and also as a tennis family."
All the hard work has helped DeWitt perfect her tennis game and has her ready for state play.
"She's worked hard," said Lynne DeWitt, Jenni's coach and mother. "She's had another successful season because she has worked so hard over at the tennis center (Rowten) in Paducah. She's played in quite a few tournaments this summer and traveled with them a lot. She's ready."
As a freshman, DeWitt finished second in the district tournament to advance to state play where she lasted only two matches. As a sophomore, DeWitt won the district tournament with a perfect record of 18-0 and finished sixth in the state tournament. Last year DeWitt won the district and placed fourth, losing a close three-set match in the semifinal in the process.
"This year I strive to be in that state championship match," DeWitt said. "That is what I want this year. I've worked really hard for it in the off-season and I feel more prepared than ever. Hopefully, I can see myself in that championship match."
In an attempt to get to that championship match, DeWitt has worked on more than just her serve or her backhand.
"This year I think the strongest point of my game is my mental game," DeWitt said. "Over the summer I worked on the mental part of my game a lot. I learned how to put the mental part of the game and the playing part of the game all together into one."
That combination has proved lethal to her opponents this season. DeWitt has not only won her matches, but has dominated them. In her 20 matches, DeWitt has lost only 10 games.
"My goal is just to go out there and play my game," DeWitt said. "I can't always play like I want to play, but I go out there and have one goal for the day. I pick out one aspect of my game that I want to work on and get better and that's what I focus on."
Of course, the tennis isn't over after the match either as DeWitt looks for other competition to help perfect her game.
" She still goes to Paducah quite a bit and plays people over there and then a lot of the men will come out here and play against her," said the elder DeWitt. "So she is still playing at night and weekends."
DeWitt said the drive to be perfect isn't her only motivating factor. Her brother, Blake DeWitt, who was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is also a huge motivating factor.
"To look at my brother and see all of the success that he's had throughout his high school career and now his professional career, I see how he does it," DeWitt said. "He wants to strive to be the best and he sets his goals higher and I've looked up to him a lot. He motivates me probably more than anyone."
DeWitt also wants to perfect her game for an opportunity to play college tennis. "I'm looking to play for a Division 1 school," DeWitt said. "It's tough but that is what I'm looking for and striving for. Hopefully in the off-season I'll work even harder to manage that."
But first comes the state tournament Oct. 19-20 at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. A weekend DeWitt hopes will have the perfect ending -- a state championship.