By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- When Molly Barb showed up for the first day of practice last season, Central girls tennis coach Jordon Robinson immediately saw potential in her.
Robinson noticed Barb's athletic ability and her competitiveness. What he didn't realize until after her freshman season ended was her desire to improve and her tireless work ethic.
Barb committed herself to the game during the offseason and it has paid big dividends for her and her teammates this year.
"I just really love the game," Barb said. "I love everything about it. It's not only a physical game, but it's also a mental game."
Barb will play in the Shenandoah District individual singles tournament at 2 p.m. today at Central. The sophomore is the top seed for the tournament, in which only one player will advance to the Region B tournament. She and doubles partner Rachel Leeth will be the top seed for the individual doubles tournament on Tuesday.
Barb had very little tennis experience when she tried out for the team last year. She started out at the No. 6 singles position, but continually progressed and moved up the ladder as the season went along.
By the end of the season Barb was playing at No. 4 for Central, who was playing in the Northwestern District. Robinson said he had a talk with her at the end of the season and told her that if she wanted to reach her potential she needed to work hard in the offseason.
Barb listened and did everything she could to improve. She took clinics with former Central standout Mark Ryman. She came to the courts at W.O. Riley Park in Woodstock almost every day and hit balls for hours to improve her game.
"It's exciting to see someone work as hard as she has," Robinson said. "She was willing to come out here every day and hit buckets of balls to work on her game. You can tell a lot of players that that's what they need to do, but they have to decide for themselves if they're willing to do it. I think she's a good example for the other girls. It shows what you can do if you're willing to work at it."
Needing someone to hit with, Barb turned to her brother, Ian, who had never played the game before. The two hit together a lot throughout the summer and this season Ian tried out for the boys team and the senior plays at No. 4 singles for the Falcons.
With all of her offseason work, Barb came back much stronger this season and moved to the top spot on the team. She has flourished in the role. Barb is undefeated in the district and also had success against some of the Group AA teams the Falcons have played.
"The competition is definitely harder [at No. 1]," Barb said. "But I feel like I've adapted well to it."
Last year Barb said she "dinked" a lot of her serves in, while this year her serve has been effective. Barb said Robinson has helped her a lot with all aspects of her game.
Her forehand has become a big weapon and she is hitting the ball much harder this season, which has helped her to a successful year.
One of Barb's strengths is her mental toughness. One of Barb's toughest competitors in the district is Riverheads' Maggie Freed. When the two played on Thursday, Barb went up 3-0 early, only to see Freed rally and tie the match at 3-3.
Barb didn't let it faze her and took five of the next six games to win the match.
"Molly always stays calm and cool on the court," Robinson said. "I never have to worry about her mental toughness. She stays the same whether she's up 5-0 or down 5-0. She has a great mental game. I always tell her 80 percent of tennis is mental."
This season Barb led a very young Falcons squad to a second place finish in the Shenandoah District. Central has only two seniors on the squad and has high hopes for what the team can accomplish over the next few years.
Being only a sophomore, and with two more varsity years ahead of her, Barb also has a lot of potential in her game.
"I really would like to get to states," Barb said. "That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to keep working hard."
Robinson said there's still a lot Barb can work on, but he knows with her work ethic she will have no problem reaching her full potential.
"She has all the tools and her mental game is tough," Robinson said. "Hopefully she can get to states and maybe even win a state title. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her."