TO SAY THAT Lisa Scott loves tennis is understatement. She started young back home in Cumberland, played singles for UMBC "before they gave scholarships," and having started a family and her environmental science career, resumed competition after moving to Columbia 6 1/2 years ago. Now 39, her game is league tennis.
That created a problem a couple of years ago: Scott's U.S. Tennis Association skill rating rose, moving her into a tougher league, making it, she said, "harder to compete."
This summer, the Harper's Choice village resident took lessons from Gil Schuerholz III, the pro at Ellicott City's Forest Hills Tennis Club.
But no cliche is more true than the one about practice making perfect, and Scott figured it was time to get on the ball, so to speak, about her game.
Which she did, again ... and again ... and again ... and again ... more than 13,500 times.
That's how many balls staffers at Columbia's Owen Brown Tennis Club calculate Scott hit from ball machines, sometimes as frequently as four evenings a week. Scott's diligence blew away others in an informal, summerlong club contest for hitting practice balls; her closest rivals last week stood between 8,000 and 8,500 hits.
Scott said she would still be bashing balls flung mechanically her way at varying paces and spins except for two things: pain from an ill-fitting shoe and, after one machine broke, "someone left the other one out in the rain."
"But I'm not sure how they came up with that figure," she said. "I don't even know how many balls the hopper holds. But I'd usually go through five rounds of balls - you know, working my forehand, my backhand, some serves, some specialty shots.
"I wasn't keeping count. I was just trying to get better. At my age, it's getting harder to play against kids just coming out of college."
Bruce Holbrook, the Columbia Association's head tennis pro, says the Playmate machine contains 200 balls and that a good player averages 750 balls an hour: Contest totals were computed by multiplying 750 by the number of hours a machine was signed out.
Scott is a good player, fourth among Maryland women between 35 and 40, and 11th in the mid-Atlantic region.
She said she was drawn to Owen Brown's machines because of the club's summer-season offer of "all the balls you can hit for $125."
"Get your money's worth?" she was asked.
"I sure did," she said.
But with a mock sigh, she added, "I'll never be Venus Williams."
Footnote: Lisa Cunningham Scott, who lives in Columbia's Kings Contrivance village, is not Lisa Scott, tennis devotee.
Replying to a phone message inquiring if she were the tennis-playing Scott, she said, laughing:
"I'm definitely not the woman you're looking for. I was intrigued by the call, though, because back in junior high [in Catonsville], my serves were so bad, the other kids used to yell, 'Fore.'"
Not that anything's wrong with the name, which connotes power and force and works nicely in a sports context, but why would a western Howard County youth organization dub itself the "Thunder Soccer Club" ?
Because nearly a decade ago, a bunch of 9-year-old boys thought it sounded neat.
"We were on a parking lot at Bushy Park Elementary School [in Glenwood] after practice one day," recalled Tom Kuba, one of the club's founding fathers, who still coaches and still watches some of those boys play, nowadays in high school. "We needed a nickname, and so we asked the boys what they wanted to be called."
Kuba was helping Ken Boras coach the first travel team out of the western part of the county in the early 1990s, a team that was part of what verbose lawyers set up as the Soccer Association of Western Howard County (SAWHC - catchy).
"Thunder and Lightning were among five or six names the boys threw out," Kuba said, and when players voted, Thunder ruled - and has ruled since.
About 18 months ago, the club adopted the name formally.
"Five or six of those boys are now on the under-17 Thunder team," said Kuba, whose son Eric plays on Glenelg's varsity. Boras' son Matt plays at River Hill. "It's a nice piece of trivia, I guess, because so few people were around at the time."