Just how much has Loudoun County High School senior Jared Anderson learned about tennis since he first picked up a racket almost four years ago? He now knows how to properly keep score. He knows what the different lines on the court mean. And he's become a pretty good tennis player.
Anderson, the Raiders' No. 2 singles player, and senior Hunter Davis, the No. 3 singles player, started playing tennis together the summer before their freshman year. They joined the Loudoun County tennis team and now, four years later, have helped lead the Raiders to the Group AA tournament.
Loudoun County, which has a 16-1 team record, beat defending Group AA champion Handley in the May 22 Region II final, 5-2. The Raiders will face Jamestown, the Region I champion, at 9 a.m. Friday in Blacksburg in the state semifinals. The accomplishment is notable for two guys who started playing tennis just for fun.
"Hunter and I tried different sports. We tried in-line skating and some of that extreme stuff, but decided it was too dangerous," Anderson said. "We decided to give tennis a try, and we fell in love with it. We haven't stopped playing since."
Anderson and Davis have been doubles partners since their freshman year, and even though neither has played at No. 1 singles, they have been the No. 1 doubles team for two years. Last year, they advanced to the semifinals of the regional doubles tournament. This spring, they lost in the district semifinals.
"If you don't like who you're playing with, if you don't like your doubles partner, then you're not going to win," said Davis, who will room with Anderson in the fall at West Virginia University. "If you're friends with your partner, then you're not going to get on each other's case. It brings a good atmosphere."
The team's top six players -- senior Phil Griffith (No. 1), Anderson, Davis, junior Matt Brandon (No. 4), senior Chris Downs (No. 5) and senior Craig Schulz (No. 6) -- are friends, and they've worked hard on their games. Several of the Raiders played competitive tennis in a league at the Loudoun Racquet and Fitness Club during the offseason.
"We improved so much, and we started the season ready to go," Anderson said. "We weren't just playing around. If you want to do anything, you have to play seriously. Everyone is competitive by nature."
Loudoun County's strength as a team lies in its balance and experience. The Raiders don't have one dominant player; instead, they have six quality players who are all fairly equal in skill. "You could mix up our starting six, and we would probably have close to the same record," Anderson said.
Anderson, a left-hander, is 15-2 this year at No. 2 singles. He beat Handley's Val Silva, an exchange student who hopes to return to Brazil and play professional tennis, three times this season. Davis is 16-1 and has lost only four matches in the past three years. Brandon, who was No. 6 as a freshman and No. 2 as a sophomore, is 45-2 in three years.
Of the starting six, Griffith, Anderson, Davis and Schulz have been on the team for four years; Brandon, the only non-senior in the top six, and Downs have been on the team for three years. That experience came into play in the regional final; the Raiders fell behind in five singles matches and battled back to win three of them.
"The mental part in all sports is important, but in tennis you can't emphasize it enough," Loudoun County Coach Jim Noland said. "Like that Handley match -- that's when it helps you to have seniors who have won before and who have played in big matches before. They know how to win."
CAPTION: Loudoun County seniors Jared Anderson, left, and Hunter Davis are accomplished as the No. 1 doubles team, and as No. 2 and No. 3 singles players, respectively.
CAPTION: Davis (16-1), above, and Anderson (15-2), left, started playing tennis four years ago just for kicks. Since then, they have made their marks, and the two seniors are among the Raiders' key players in the Group AA semifinals Friday against Region I champion Jamestown.