04/22/04 — EW's Moats makes MOC her choice

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EW's Moats makes MOC her choice

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 22, 2004 2:02 PM

One afternoon during her eighth-grade year, Jennifer Moats and her best friend pulled out some tennis racquets and balls. They began hitting back and forth in the driveway, and Moats -- over time -- developed a passion for the game.

She began spending countless hours on the court with her father, Norman, who helped her improve her skills. When Moats reached high school, she earned a spot on the Eastern Wayne tennis team as a freshman. Although she struggled that season, her prep career slowly blossomed each year and it took a new direction Wednesday afternoon.

Moats signed a national letter-of-intent to play tennis next season at Mount Olive College. She entertained offers from other small schools like King (Tenn.) College and Randolph-Macon (Va.) College before deciding on the NCAA Division II school in southern Wayne County.

"It's close to home and it's a comfortable atmosphere," the bright-eyed Moats said. "I got to know a lot of the team members up there ... it's not like a real busy city. It's small and it's not as far from home."

Moats played the No. 1 seed for the Warriors this past season and played consistently every time she stepped onto the court. Trojans coach Burt Lewis noticed her style of play and felt that Moats would be a good fit for an up-and-coming program.

Mount Olive College finished 12-13 overall, but posted an 11-7 record the last two months of the season. The Trojans ended up 2-1 in the season-ending Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference tournament and took fifth overall in the eight-team event.

Moats will join a program that is losing just one senior and will return five players next fall. Three of those players hail from Brazil, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. She got her first taste of the different nationalities and cultures when she stayed overnight, and hit with the players the next day.

"It was interesting," a laughing Moats said. "You couldn't really understand what they were talking about, but it was fun to hear the different languages and how they act. It was really cool."

Moats has a cool demeanor on the court. She hits crisp, clean strokes and sets up the opponent well by drawing them into the net for a passing shot. If that tactic doesn't work, Moats will sit on the baseline and slowly work her way toward the net for a passing shot. Every once in a while, she'll fire a service ace, which is one of the strong points of her game.

Sometimes, however, the baseline game tests her patience. If she hits a bad shot or two, she mentally lets down and struggles to get back into the game or set.

"I don't really serve and volley that much, but I'm getting more confident," Moats said. "If the points are important in a really close match, then I usually take my time."

Moats has also gained considerable experience in tournament play. She sees other styles of play, makes mental notes and also watches matches her father has recorded on television. Once they watch the match, they'll head to the court and practice what they've seen.

Lewis hit with Moats during her official visit and said that she's a strong player. He also worked with her stepping into the ball and hitting with more power.

"I just love playing," Moats said. "Sometimes it relieves stress, but it's relaxing, too."

And it's led to an unexpected future that started on a sunny afternoon in her best friend's driveway.